One of Waymo’s self-driving minivans crashed into a median after its lone human driver fell asleep at the wheel.
The crash occurred on a freeway outside of Google-owned Waymo’s Mountain View, California-based office in June, but has just now been made public in a report by The Information.
While driving on a route that Waymo uses to test autonomous vehicle software, the human safety driver ‘appeared to doze off’ after being the car for about an hour.
It was then that the driver accidentally turned off the car’s autonomous software by touching the gas pedal.
The driver failed to take over the wheel and ignored warnings that the self-driving software had been disengaged.
The Pacifica minivan then crashed into the highway median.
No one was injured in the crash and no other vehicles were involved in the incident.
The driver was able to return the car to Waymo’s offices. However, he no longer works for Waymo, according to the Information.
An incident report filed with California regulators says the ‘driver disengaged from autonomous mode and let the vehicle drift out of its lane.’
The report also notes that the vehicle had some ‘moderate damage to its tire and bumper.’
A Waymo spokesperson told the Information in a statement: ‘We have a strong culture of safety at Waymo.
‘We’ve been testing in Mountain View for nearly 10 years, and we are constantly improving our best practices, including those for driver attentiveness, because the safe and responsible testing of our technology is integral to everything we do.’
It comes as Waymo has been scaling back its human drivers in anticipation of launching fully autonomous robo-taxis before the end of the year.
The company is eyeing the launch of a taxi service without human drivers in Phoenix by the end of 2019, but that process has reportedly been slower and more challenging than they anticipated.
What’s more, a separate report from The Information in August found the firm is still struggling to teach its self driving cars basic driving maneuvers.
‘The Waymo vans have trouble with many unprotected left turns and with merging into heavy traffic in the Phoenix area, especially on highways,’ the Information said.
It also says the vans ‘don’t understand basic road features, such as metered red and green lights that regulate the pace of cars merging onto freeways.’
Self-driving vehicles have come under intense scrutiny after a self-driving Uber struck and killed a pedestrian in Tempe, Arizona in March.
In that case, the Uber’s lone human driver was found to be streaming The Voice on her phone at the time of the impact.
At the time of the crash, Waymo CEO John Krafcik said the incident would not have occurred with his company’s technology.
‘At Waymo, we have a lot of confidence that our technology would be able to handle a situation like that,’ John Krafcik told a car dealership conference in Las Vegas on Saturday.
He added that Waymo’s vehicles had clocked more than eight million kilometers (4.9 million miles) on routes frequented by pedestrians since 2009 without being involved in a fatal accident.
As companies such as Uber, Google, GM, Ford and others increase their focus on the technology, many have pointed out that there need to be greater safeguards for human drivers.
This might include limiting how long their shifts are allowed to be, or requiring each vehicle to have at least two human safety drivers.