US Regulator Asks For More Data In Zoox Self-Driving Probe

US federal road safety regulators are requesting more information in their probe of Amazon’s Zoox self-driving unit over incidents of unexpected braking.

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) opened its preliminary investigation after two reports of Zoox vehicles that braked unexpectedly, leading to rear-end collisions with motorcycles that resulted in minor injuries.

The agency listed 13 information requests, incuding the number of hard braking events commanded by the vehicle’s automated systems with and without onboard human supervision, a timeline for each incident and copies of videos and graphical renderings related to incidents.

It gave Zoox a deadline of 12 July to provide the data.

Image credit: Zoox

Rapid braking

NHTSA’s Office of Defects Investigation (ODI) said in the two reported incidents the Zoox vehicles braked in response to another road user that was not directly in front of the vehicle.

“ODI is concerned that vehicles exhibiting unexpected rapid braking may increase the risk of crash, property damage and injury,” ODI said in the a letter to the company. “The risk is particularly acute to road users behind the Zoox vehicles who are unable to reasonably anticipate or react to the unexpected sudden braking.”

The investigation is evaluating the driving system’s performance with a focus on collisions as well as “the behavior in crosswalks around vulnerable road users, and in other similar rear-end collision scenarios”.

The two reported incidents involved Toyota Highlander vehicles equipped with Zoox’s automated driving system for real-world test purposes.

NHTSA said both crashes occurred during the day and within the Zoox systems’ operational design limits.

‘Transparency’

Zoox, acquired by Amazon in 2020 for $1.3 billion (£1bn), said in an earlier statement that “transparency and collaboration with regulators is of the utmost importance, and we remain committed to working closely with NHTSA to answer their questions”.

The company is testing its vehicles in California and Nevada and said in March it would be expanding testing to a wider area, with higher speeds and would include nighttime driving.

The safety agency’s actions in the probe may indicate a heightened scrutiny of autonomous vehicle (AV) companies after GM’s Cruise lost its permits to operate in California after it was found to have witheld information about an incident in which a Cruise robotaxi ran over and dragged a pedestrian 20 feet.

The agency is separately investigating Alphabet’s Waymo over reports of robotaxis making unexpected moves that led to crashes.

The NHTSA is also probing Tesla’s December recall of more than 2 million vehicles to improve the safety of its Autopilot software after the agency received reports of 20 crashes that occurred with the updated software installed.

Matthew Broersma

Matt Broersma is a long standing tech freelance, who has worked for Ziff-Davis, ZDnet and other leading publications

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