Waymo Recalls Software and Mapping Technology Following Robotaxi Collision with Telephone Pole

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Waymo, the self-driving vehicle company owned by Alphabet Inc., has announced a voluntary software recall after one of its driverless vehicles collided with a telephone pole in Phoenix, Arizona. The incident occurred last month and resulted in damage to the vehicle, but no passengers or bystanders were injured.

The recall involves a software update that will be implemented across Waymo’s fleet of 672 driverless-capable vehicles. The update addresses an error in the software that incorrectly assigned a low damage score to the telephone pole. Additionally, the software update will also include an update to the map to account for the hard road edge in the alleyway where the incident took place.

This marks Waymo’s second recall ever, with the first occurring in February of last year after two minor collisions prompted a recall of 444 vehicles. The recent incident and voluntary recall come at a time when the driverless vehicle industry is facing increased regulatory scrutiny. Federal investigators are currently probing almost all major companies operating autonomous vehicles in the United States.

The incident in Phoenix took place on May 21st when an unoccupied Waymo vehicle was driving through an alley to pick up a passenger. The alley was lined with wooden telephone poles, which were level with the road and surrounded by longitudinal yellow striping. As the vehicle was pulling over, it collided with one of the poles at a speed of 8mph, resulting in damage to the vehicle.

While the passenger who was waiting for the vehicle did not witness the crash, she recalled hearing it. The vehicle did not make it to pick up the passenger. Waymo’s recall, however, differs from traditional recalls. Instead of taking the vehicles off the road for repairs, the company can simply push an over-the-air update to all the affected vehicles. Once the new software and maps have loaded, the vehicles can continue to operate on public roads.

Waymo has already deployed mapping and software updates across its entire fleet and states that this recall will not impact its current operations. The company is committed to a safety-first approach and aims to earn trust with riders, community members, regulators, and policymakers as it expands its services to more cities and serves more riders.

The recall highlights Waymo’s efforts to be proactive in addressing safety concerns, especially when its own vehicles are at fault. The company is currently under investigation by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) for over two dozen incidents involving its driverless vehicles. These incidents include “single-party” crashes and potential traffic law violations. Some of the incidents have involved collisions with stationary objects, similar to the recent crash with the telephone pole.

In conclusion, Waymo’s voluntary software recall serves as a reminder of the challenges and responsibilities that come with developing and deploying autonomous vehicles. While accidents and software issues are bound to happen, it is crucial for companies in the industry to take swift action to address these concerns and prioritize safety. Waymo’s proactive approach to recalls and software updates aims to ensure the continued safe operation of its vehicles and build trust with all stakeholders involved.

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