Future of Travel

AV sector hits latest speed bump with Waymo incident in Phoenix

The Alphabet-owned AV company said it voluntarily filed a recall notice with federal regulators after updating its software.
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The robotaxi sector’s bumpy ride continues.

Waymo, the Alphabet-owned autonomous ride-hailing company, on Thursday said it had filed a recall notice with the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) over a software issue connected to a pair of crashes in Phoenix.

In a blog post, Waymo detailed a Dec. 11 incident in which one of its robotaxis struck a pickup truck as it was being towed “across a center turn lane and a traffic lane.” Another Waymo vehicle then struck the same truck.

Calling it an “unusual scenario,” Waymo says it found that its vehicles “incorrectly predicted the future motion of the towed vehicle.” The company says it immediately alerted the Phoenix Police Department and the Arizona Department of Public Safety and followed up with NHTSA days later. The crashes resulted in “minor vehicle damage” but no injuries, according to Waymo.

It says it has since updated its software across its fleet but that the voluntary recall “reflects how seriously we take our responsibility to safely deploy our technology and to transparently communicate with the public.”

Although Waymo has skirted much of the scrutiny some of its competitors—notably GM-backed Cruise—have faced, this isn’t the first time the startup has been in the headlines recently. Earlier this month, a crowd in San Francisco vandalized and set a Waymo vehicle on fire.

The incidents are just the latest in the robotaxi sector, which has faced a series of setbacks in the past year, including an October incident in which a Cruise robotaxi dragged a pedestrian underneath the vehicle. The recent challenges underscore the unrealized promises of the autonomous-vehicle sector as a whole, which The Verge detailed here. The Washington Post also recently revealed what may be the first known fatality tied to Tesla’s most advanced driver-assist system.

In more optimistic automated driving news, GM announced Thursday that it is nearly doubling the number of miles on which drivers can use its hands-free highway driving system, Super Cruise. By the end of 2025, Super Cruise is slated to be available on some 750,000 miles of highway in the US and Canada.

“Soon drivers will be able to drive hands-free between more rural towns across the country,” the automaker said in a news release. “Adding minor highways to the network gives Super Cruise customers more variety and better coverage of hands-free driving, regardless of where they live, work or vacation.”

Keep up with the innovative tech transforming business

Tech Brew keeps business leaders up-to-date on the latest innovations, automation advances, policy shifts, and more, so they can make informed decisions about tech.