Waymo wins bid to keep some of its robotaxi safety details secret

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Waymo is allowed to keep some of its autonomous vehicle safety data secret after a California court ruled in the Alphabet company’s favor in a lawsuit filed against the state’s Department of Motor Vehicles (via TechCrunch).

Last month, Waymo sued the DMV to block a public records request from an unidentified party seeking Waymo’s application for a permit to operate driverless cars on public roads. The company argued that the information being sought was a trade secret and that being forced to reveal it would put the company at a competitive disadvantage.

The case zeroes in on a tension that’s brewing within the AV industry between a desire to keep information secret from rival companies and the need to earn the public’s trust through transparency and openness. Waymo argues that it is earning the public’s trust by publishing more safety data and driving methodologies than any other AV company in the industry.

In a statement, Waymo praised the court’s decision while also vowing to be transparent with the public. “We’re pleased that the court reached the right decision in granting Waymo’s request for a preliminary injunction, precluding the disclosure of competitively-sensitive trade secrets that Waymo had included in the permit application it submitted to the CA DMV,” Nicholas Smith, a spokesperson for the company, said in a statement. “We will continue to openly share safety and other data on our autonomous driving technology and operations, while recognizing that detailed technical information we share with regulators is not always appropriate for sharing with the public.”

Waymo filed the lawsuit to keep private information about how it handles certain autonomous vehicle emergencies, such as when the vehicle’s automated driving system fails or when local rules require the vehicle to stop. Waymo also didn’t want to disclose how it responds when its vehicles attempt to drive somewhere they are not intended to go and how they handle steep hills or tight curves.

In the lawsuit, the company argues that releasing that information would enable its competitors to copy its processes without any of the costs associated with Waymo’s years of research and development.

“If Waymo’s competitors had access to this highly valuable information, they would obtain — immediately, and for free — the benefit from Waymo’s years of research and financial investment to improve their own AV technology, products and services at Waymo’s expense,” Samrat Ravindra Kansara, group product manager at Waymo, writes in the lawsuit.

California’s DMV oversees the largest autonomous vehicle testing program in the country, with over 60 companies permitted to operate test vehicles on public roads. Those companies have to submit detailed applications and demonstrate their technical capabilities to state officials in order to receive a permit to test their vehicles.

Last year, an unidentified party submitted a public records request to the DMV for Waymo’s application. The agency informed the company that it would release the application unredacted unless Waymo sued the DMV to block its release — which Waymo promptly did. The DMV did not oppose Waymo’s request for an injunction, nor did any other third party file a protest.

Waymo is currently testing hundreds of vehicles in downtown San Francisco and in and around Google’s offices in Mountain View. Last year, the company logged the most miles driven autonomously of all the companies permitted to test in the state: 2.3 million miles, a huge increase over 2020, with 628,838 miles driven, and even the pre-pandemic year of 2019, with 1.45 million.

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