Waymo Recalls Self-Driving Software After Separate Collisions with Towed Vehicle Minutes Apart

Waymo, the autonomous vehicle division of Alphabet Inc., has issued a voluntary recall for the software operating its fleet of self-driving cars. This decision comes after two incidents where two separate Waymo vehicles collided with the same vehicle on the back of a tow truck within minutes of each other in Phoenix, Arizona, in December 2023.

According to a blog post on Waymo’s website announcing the recall, the software failed to accurately predict the movement of the vehicle being towed, leading to a minor collision. The tow truck fled the scene, but amazingly it was again involved in another collision, this time involving a separate Waymo vehicle hitting the same towed vehicle.

On December 11, 2023 in Phoenix, a Waymo vehicle made contact with a backwards-facing pickup truck being improperly towed ahead of the Waymo vehicle such that the pickup truck was persistently angled across a center turn lane and a traffic lane. Following contact, the tow truck and towed pickup truck did not pull over or stop traveling, and a few minutes later another Waymo vehicle made contact with the same pickup truck while it was being towed in the same manner.

Waymo statement

Fortunately, no injuries were reported from either incident, as the vehicles were not carrying passengers at the time.

Waymo’s response included an update to the software to correct the prediction algorithm, to ensure such errors do not occur again. The updates were completed by January 12, 2024, without disrupting the ongoing operations of Waymo’s ride-hailing service, Waymo One, which operates in Phoenix, San Francisco, Los Angeles, and Austin.

Waymo’s handling of the situation, including its immediate action and transparent communication with regulatory bodies like the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), contrasts with the practices of some of its competitors. For example, the California Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV) suspended the deployment and testing permits of Waymo’s competitor, Cruise, after a pedestrian incident, and has filed formal accusations against Tesla for misleading marketing regarding its autonomous driving capabilities.

Waymo recently expanded its testing to include freeways for the first time. The company also applied for a major expansion of its testing areas around San Francisco and Los Angeles.

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