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Waymo Publishes a Blueprint for Autonomous Vehicle Safety

Thursday, Mars 30, 2023

Waymo publishes a blueprint for a safety case for autonomous vehicle operations to gain public trust and encourage transparency in the industry.

Waymo, the autonomous driving technology company owned by Google’s parent company Alphabet, recently published a document describing its approach to building a reliable safety case for autonomous vehicle operations. A safety case is a structured argument with proof that AV developers use to show that the AV is safe enough to be deployed on public roads without a human driver. It is about constructing an argument for adequate and sufficient safety where each claim is supported by evidence.

Waymo presents its strategy and systematic approach to creating a safety case. The document is structured around three complementary perspectives on safety: a layered approach to safety, a dynamic approach to safety, and a credible approach to safety. Saftey is defined as an absence of unreasonable risk.

By publishing this material, the company wants to engender broad trust in the credibility of the safety case, provide transparency and promote understanding of their safety practices with safety professionals and the public, encourage feedback on the proposed approach, and reduce natural concerns about confirmation, outcome-reporting and publication bias.

This new document is an extension to Waymo’s previous security framework and incorporates external state-of-the-art best practices for safety cases and safety assurance. “As we pave the way for more people to benefit from full autonomy, we remain committed to sharing more information to advance the discussion around AV safety”, the company says in an accompanying blog post.

Waymo hopes that the publication will be helpful to others in the AV space and that it will further the ongoing conversations on autonomus driving system (ADS) safety. The document is intended as a blueprint or toolkit for informing the safety case of any company developing ADS. In other words, Waymo hopes that its safety case is credible and that the described method will be used not only by themselves but also by their competitors.

Personal Comment:

Waymo is trying to increase public trust by sharing information about its safety practices, but also encouraging greater transparency in the industry. Companies developing automated driving technology often emphasize that they put safety first, but how can we be sure that this is so? Transparency and openness is key. 

There are expectations that autonomous driving technology will lead to increased traffic safety. It is often claimed as one of the biggest benefits with the technology. On the face of it this makes sense, since over 90 percent of car accidents are due to human error the potential for reducing traffic accidents by removing the human driver should be significant.  Autonomous driving systems do not get drunk, distracted, or fall asleep.

But is the new technology safe enough for deployment on a wide scale? And what is “safe enough”? Ultimately, it is up to policymakers, regulators, standards organizations, and the public to decide. A challenge, however, is to regulate at the right level: too much stifles innovation, too little an unnecessarily increase risk. The safety issue is crucial for gaining trust and acceptance for this new technology. Without trust and acceptance the technology cannot reach its potential to contribute to the excepted benefits to society.

The AV industry has an important role to play. Especially during the time when the technology is still developing and the work to develop legal requirements and standards is still ongoing. Transparency and openness about how the companies determine that their AV systems are safe can increase understanding and build trust in the technology which underpins acceptance that will eventually allow the technology to reach its full potential.

Written by Jenny Lundahl
RISE Mobility & Systems