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Waymo issues software recall after two cars hit the same truck

  • February 14, 2024

Waymo claims the truck was being improperly towed and that this error contributed to the ‘unusual’ incident, but discontent appears to be growing against self-driving vehicles in the US.

Waymo issued a voluntary recall on its self-driving software after two of its robotaxis hit a towed vehicle towards the end of 2023.

The Alphabet-owned company said its entire fleet was updated with new software to address “this rare issue” and that its ride-hailing service was not interrupted by the update.

The software recall was issued in response to an incident on 11 December 2023, when a Waymo vehicle hit with a backwards-facing pickup truck. The company claims this truck was being “improperly towed” and was “persistently angled” across a centre turn lane and a traffic lane.

After the two vehicles made contact, neither pulled over or stopped travelling. A second Waymo car then hit the same towed truck a few minutes later.

Waymo chief safety officer Mauricio Peña said the “unusual scenario” resulted in no injuries and only minor vehicle damage.

“We determined that due to the persistent orientation mismatch of the towed pickup truck and tow truck combination, the Waymo AV incorrectly predicted the future motion of the towed vehicle,” Peña said. “Based on our own analysis and our consultations with NHTSA, we concluded that it would be appropriate to submit a voluntary recall report of the software present on our fleet at the time of the two collisions.”

Waymo said it is committed to safety and claims that its self-driving vehicles actually reduce the rates of police-reported and injury-causing crashes compared to human drivers “in the cities where we operate”.

But the company is facing a backlash against self-driving vehicles in San Francisco, as one of its autonomous cars was set on fire earlier this week after it drove into a busy intersection during a Chinese New Year celebration, Reuters reports.

This is the same city where GM-owned Cruise had a notorious incident, when one of its robotaxis dragged and pinned a hit-and-run victim last year. This incident is being investigated by multiple US organisations and led to the company’s driverless taxi permit being suspended in the US state of California.

Cruise recently appointed Steve Kenner as its chief safety officer, as part of a larger effort to rebuild trust in its services.

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