Waymo recalls software in all its cars after its robotaxi crashes into a pole
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Arizona’s Waymo Driverless Taxi Crash Triggers Second Robotaxi Recall

Waymo has issued a voluntary recall of 672 self-driving vehicles. Mashable says the Alphabet-owned startup made this decision after one of its robotaxis hit a pole. This happened in Phoenix, Arizona, last month. So far, 17 reports of Waymo driverless taxi crashes have been filed.

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) opened investigations on Waymo autonomous cars last month. This happened after 22 reports of driverless taxis exhibiting behavior that violates traffic safety laws or unexpected behavior.

Zero Injuries

According to Waymo, the Arizona driverless taxi crash occurred in a narrow passageway. The robotaxi was executing a low-speed pullover. It was on its way to pick up a passenger and was unoccupied. No one was injured in the accident. The driverless car sustained damage.

Following the May incident, Waymo has issued a software update on all vehicles. The intention of the software update is to boost the vehicle’s detection response to permanent objects like poles. The company will also be conducting intensive mapping updates in the vehicles. Waymo is filing the voluntary recall with the NHTSA.

Speaking to the media, a Company Spokesperson said, “We have already deployed mapping and software updates across our entire fleet, and this does not impact our current operations. As we serve more riders in more cities, we will continue our safety first approach, working to earn trust with our riders, community members, regulators, and policymakers.”

Not the First Recall

This isn’t the first time that Waymo recalls self-driving cars. It’s the second one in a span of months. At the beginning of the year, the company recalled its entire fleet of 444 vehicles. Several driverless taxi crashes triggered the recall.

Two Waymo robotaxis hit the same truck in December 2023, just minutes apart. The accidents also occurred in Phoenix. There were no injuries. Waymo responded by updating its software. The team concluded the update in January 2024. A month later, the company announced a recall citing a software error.

Regulator Scrutiny

Following the recent recall, Waymo is likely to face more scrutiny by NHTSA. Last month, the regulator commenced investigations into Waymo over the safety of its robotaxis on public roads.

At the moment, the federal government doesn’t have standards for driverless cars. However, NHTSA requires autonomous car companies to report all crashes to the agency. Waymo isn’t the only autonomous vehicle company on the NHTSA’s radar. Investigators are also looking into Amazon’s Zoox. The agency is also investigating Ford and Tesla’s driverless technology.

Prior to the recent Waymo driverless taxi crash, NHTSA had raised the alarm. The agency had said that driverless cars may fail to avoid poles or other solid objects. NHTSA also said that many times, Waymo robotaxis crashed into visible objects.

“Reports include collisions with stationary and semi-stationary objects such as gates and chains, collisions with parked vehicles, and instances in which the (automated driving system) appeared to disobey traffic safety controls,” NHTSA said.

Waymo is expected to answer detailed questions from the regulator. It must do so by early August. Among the things the NHTSA wants to know is whether the company performed updates or tests to fix the specific incidents.

Waymo is proud of its safety record. Its performance is impressive considering the millions of miles its robotaxis have traveled.

Silvia Hart
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