Waymo Recalls Hundreds Of Vehicles Over Software Error

Self-driving Waymo vehicles recalled, after two minor collisions in Phoenix, and one vehicle being set on fire in San Fran

Waymo has recalled 444 vehicles, in what has been a tough period for Alphabet’s self-driving car division.

The recall for Waymo comes after two of its vehicles operating in Phoenix, Arizona made contact with a “pickup truck being towed backwards and at an angle relative to the towing vehicle” within minutes of each other last December.

The recall announcement this week comes days after a crowd in San Francisco’s Chinatown vandalised and set fire to a Waymo self-driving car using fireworks, after it steered itself into a street where a crowd of people were apparently celebrating the lunar new year.

A video of that incident can be found here.

Waymo recall

In a blog post, Mauricio Peña, Waymo’s chief safety officer, wrote that the firm “voluntarily filed a recall report with the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) for software that was previously on our fleet.”

“We chose to do this after consultation with NHTSA and our own internal review of two incidents that occurred in a rare scenario in Phoenix on December 11, 2023, which resulted in no injuries and minor vehicle damage,” wrote Peña.

“Our entire fleet was updated with software to address this rare issue between December 20, 2023 and January 12, 2024,” wrote Peña. “Our ride-hailing service is not and has not been interrupted by this update.”

“Typically a recall serves to inform the owner of a vehicle of a required repair,” wrote Peña. “In our case, we’ve filed a recall notice, which serves to inform the public of a software update that we began to deploy across our fleet in December 2023.”

“This voluntary recall reflects how seriously we take our responsibility to safely deploy our technology and to transparently communicate with the public,” wrote Peña.

Phoenix collisions

Waymo’s Peña explained that on 11 December 2023 in Phoenix, one of its vehicles 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 centre turn lane and a traffic lane.

Waymo said that following the contact, the tow truck and towed pickup truck did not pull over or stop travelling, and a few minutes later another Waymo vehicle made contact with the same pickup truck while it was being towed in the same manner.

Neither Waymo vehicle was transporting riders at the time, and there was no injuries. There was minor vehicle damage.

Waymo said that its team immediately sought to understand what happened.

“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,” wrote Peña. “After developing, rigorously testing, and validating a fix, on 20 December 2023 we began deploying a software update to our fleet to address this issue.”

Self-driving opposition

Waymo is facing an increasingly hostile operating and regulatory environment.

Media outlets reported that on Monday this week, California lawmakers and labour unions have rallied to call for laws to not allow autonomous trucks without human drivers, amid rising safety concerns after accidents.

Waymo’s rival, General Motors Cruise division, has been hit with job losses, executive departures, and major cuts to its budget, and is also facing a safety investigation after withdrawing most of its self-driving vehicles from public roads.

This came after 2 October 2023, when a pedestrian was struck by a third-party vehicle driven by a hit-and-run driver, who fled the scene.

The pedestrian was unfortunately flung into the path of the Cruise robotaxi, and the person was then dragged beneath the robotaxi for 20 feet (6 metres) as it pulled over to the side of the road.

Cruise Origin. Image credit: Cruise
The Origin self-driving shuttle designed by GM’s Cruise. Image credit: Cruise

The critically injured female pedestrian was pinned beneath its rear wheels and had to be extracted from under the robotaxi with the help of the “jaws of life” by the Fire Department, before being taken to San Francisco General Hospital with “multiple traumatic injuries.”