Waymo’s Safety Report

Waymo has just published a lot of information about the safety and validation of its sytems — more than I have yet reviewed. At the top level is a blog post in which Waymo breaks its safety analysi s into three parts:

  • Hardware
  • Software
  • Operations

Within each of those parts is a fair bit more detail and structure, more than I have seen in the past. For example, regarding hardware:

A vehicle equipped with the Waymo Driver has four main subsystems, which form the ‘hardware layer’. This includes the vehicle itself; the systems used for steering and driving; the sensor suite built into the vehicle; and the computational platform used to run our software.

Undergirding these descriptions are three documents:

  • Safety Report. This is 48 pages of glossy material that seems similar to material Waymo has published in the past. There’s a lot of data, but the audience seems to be more for the public and policymakers, rather than engineers and analysts.
  • Safety Methodologies and Safety Readiness Determinations. This looks neat. Lots more detail on the three layers of Waymo’s stack (hardware, software, operations). Lighter detail on how Waymo determines the safety readiness of the layers.
  • Waymo Public Road Safety Performance Data. Academic-style analysis of Waymo self-driving data from the Phoenix metro area in 2019. Unsurprisingly, the collisions recorded tend to be the fault of human drivers in other vehicles, not Waymo AVs. 
    This sentence caught my eye: “There were 47 contact events that occurred over this time period, consisting of 18 actual and 29 simulated contact events, none of which would be expected to result in severe or life-threatening injuries.”

I’m excited to read these documents over the coming days and see what they reveal. As Waymo writes in the blog post:

“There is currently no universally accepted approach for evaluating the safety of autonomous vehicles — despite the efforts of policymakers, researchers and companies building fully autonomous technologies.”

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