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A Waymo robotaxi is seen during a test ride in San Francisco, California. Picture: REUTERS
A Waymo robotaxi is seen during a test ride in San Francisco, California. Picture: REUTERS

Washington — Alphabet’s Waymo said on Thursday it would recall 672 of its self-driving vehicles after one of its driverless vehicles struck a wooden utility pole in Phoenix, Arizona in May.

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) regulator opened an investigation in May after 22 reports of Waymo’s robotaxis exhibiting driving behaviour that potentially violated traffic safety laws, or demonstrating other “unexpected behaviour,” including 17 collisions.

Waymo said the May Arizona collision occurred in an alleyway while executing a low-speed pullover manoeuvre. It said there were no passengers, other road users, or injuries related to the collision but there was damage to the Waymo autonomous vehicle.

Waymo said the recall remedy included a software update to improve vehicles’ detection response to pole or pole-like permanent objects, and “robust mapping updates and improvements” that have already been installed in all of the vehicles.

NHTSA said the automated driving systems, before the software updates, could fail to avoid a pole or similar object.

This is the latest in a series of NHTSA investigations into the performance of self-driving vehicles after the regulator opened probes into General Motors Cruise and Amazon.com’s Zoox.

In February, Waymo recalled 444 self-driving vehicles after two minor collisions in quick succession in Arizona, saying a software error could result in automated vehicles inaccurately predicting the movement of a towed vehicle.

NHTSA on Wednesday said it was seeking details about a series of incidents that raised concerns about the performance of Waymo driverless vehicles.

The regulator said several incidents “involved collisions with clearly visible objects that a competent driver would be expected to avoid”.

The “reports include collisions with stationary and semi-stationary objects such as gates and chains, collisions with parked vehicles, and instances in which the (automated driving system) appeared to disobey traffic safety controls,” it said.

The agency said Waymo was to respond to detailed questions by August 6 and that the regulator wanted to know if any of the vehicles were grounded, and if there were any tests or updates to address specific incidents.

Waymo earlier said it was “proud of our performance and safety record over tens of millions of autonomous miles driven”.

Reuters

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