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InfoQ Homepage News Waymo Publishes Autonomous Vehicle Safety Report

Waymo Publishes Autonomous Vehicle Safety Report

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Waymo has published a report analyzing collisions involving their self-driving vehicles. The data was collected during more than 6 million miles of driving and includes 18 actual collisions as well as 29 simulated collisions.

The Waymo team presented a summary of the report in a recent blog post. The report covers calendar year 2019 and the first nine months of 2020 and was collected from vehicles with a trained backup operator as well as fully-autonomous vehicles. In addition to 18 actual "real world" collisions, Waymo also analyzed situations where a human operator took control of a vehicle. By simulating a "what if" scenario in which no human intervened, Waymo identified 29 events that would have likely resulted in a collision. According to the team,

We hope that our transparency will lead to greater openness within our industry and a more meaningful conversation on autonomous driving performance and safety. Ultimately, we believe this will build trust and understanding in responsibly developed autonomous technology as they are deployed in fully autonomous operations to move people and goods safely and efficiently.

Waymo has been operating a self-driving taxi service in the Phoenix, Arizona, metropolitan area since 2017.  Most of the rides included a human operator at the wheel to intervene in an emergency, but some early-access users were offered fully driverless rides up to 10% of the time. Overall, Waymo claims its vehicles have accumulated over 20 million miles on public roads, including 74,000 driverless miles.

The bulk of Waymo's data comes from rides with a backup operator in the vehicle, and in fact only one collision occurred during completely driverless operation. In cases where the operator disengaged the autonomous system, taking manual control, Waymo later ran simulations to determine what might have happened if no such intervention took place. This simulation included using the Waymo control software to predict what the vehicle would have done, as well as modeling the behavior of other agents: human drivers, cyclists, or pedestrians. By projecting likely trajectories, Waymo determined whether or not a contact would have occurred if the vehicle had remained in autonomous mode. The real and simulated collisions were classified according to the ISO 26262 standard; none were considered severe or life-threatening, and the majority resulted in no injuries. Waymo claims that "nearly all...involved one or more road rule violations or other incautious behavior by another agent."

Waymo has also published a document describing their safety framework, which includes their methodology for developing safe autonomous vehicles, their safety governance program, and their process for determining readiness for deploying their automated driving systems. The majority of this document focuses on Waymo's standards for selecting and testing their hardware and software systems, including their efforts to reduce collisions by modeling human agent behavior, running simulations, and comparing their system against human driving benchmarks.

Guidehouse Insights ranks Waymo at the top of its Automated Driving Vehicles leaderboard. In October of this year, Waymo expanded its driverless ride program, opening it to the general public. In that same month, Guidehouse's third-place leader Cruise received a permit from the State of California to remove human backup drivers from their vehicles, and number two, Ford Motor Company, announced the rollout of its fourth-generation self-driving test vehicles. Also in October, electric-vehicle manufacturer Tesla began deploying a full-self-driving upgrade to a subset of its customers.

In a Hacker News discussion of the Waymo report, commenters remarked on the majority of Waymo's accidents being caused by other human drivers. Some attributed this to the autonomous vehicle following traffic regulations more strictly than most human drivers. Another noted that humans sometimes behaved antagonistically toward the Waymo vehicles:

There have been dozens of reports of Waymo’s autonomous vehicles being harassed by other drivers, including attempts to run them off the road.

Waymo's technical whitepapers on their methodology and collision analysis are available on the company's site.

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