Waymo’s Layered Approach to Safety

Francesca Favarò, Safety Best Practices Lead, Waymo joined Grayson Brulte on The Road to Autonomy Podcast to discuss Waymo’s layered approach to safety.

The conversation begins with Francesca discussing how Waymo approaches safety for autonomous vehicles.

Waymo has an approach that we call a layer approach to safety.

– Francesca Favarò

Waymo’s layered approach to safety is a combination of the architecture layer (hardware), behavior layer (software) and the operations layer. This approach allows Waymo to take a holistic approach to safety that is both robust and redundant.

The Waymo Driver as a technology actually allows consistent learning across an entire fleet. The operations layer is where everything starts coming together and we ensure that going from the Waymo Driver to the Waymo service we are in fact deploying a safe product in a scalable fleet.

– Francesca Favarò

The layered safety framework started with the realization that no single metric could define safety.

The safety framework is the combination of methodologies that basically allows you to make the determination of safety with regards to architecture, behavior and operations.

– Francesca Favarò

As Waymo expands into new cities, the safety framework is applied to each and every ODD (Operational Design Domain) where Waymo operates. The company is looking into historical driving data, vulnerable road users data and distracted driving patterns that lead to crashes. Another issue that Waymo studies and plans for from a safety standpoint is fatigued driving.

Fatigue can impair judgments, prevent an appropriate mental state and lead to distracted driving. NHTSA estimates that fatigued driving accounts for 20% of highway driving crashes and Harvard Medical School estimates that 24-hours awake which can occur during a sleepless night is akin to a blood alcohol level of 0.1.

With fatigue playing an outside role in safety, Waymo developed the Fatigue Risk Management Framework to address the issue of fatigue and how to prevent it when testing autonomous vehicles with autonomous specialists. Francesca goes onto explain in-depth how Waymo is mitigating fatigue risk while the autonomous vehicles are being tested with autonomous specialists.

In the local communities where Waymo is testing autonomous vehicles, the Fatigue Risk Management Framework with law enforcement, local officials and first responders so they can truly understand the role that autonomous specialists play while monitoring the autonomous vehicles.

This approach ties directly into Waymo’s culture of safety and transparency.

Safety does not happen overnight. You have to be intentional in creating the appropriate safety culture.

– Francesca Favarò

Waymo is focused on developing an SAE Level 4 system as the continuous monitoring of the automated driving system can be subject to complacency coupled with an altered state of attention that can hinder the safety of the overall operation.

Wrapping up the conversation, Francesca shares her insights on how she sees the Waymo Driver evolving over the coming years.

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Recorded on Friday, October 7, 2022