Last month, a safety driver behind the wheel of a WeRide test robocar was captured on film apparently asleep while traveling on highway 85 in San Jose, Calif.
Robo-autonomy in the open road: WeRide, a Chinese autonomous driving company based in Guangzhou and California, received a driverless permit to test two passenger vehicles on California’s public roads in April, reported Reuters.
Safety’s off: In the video that emerged online, the safety driver inside the WeRide test robocar appeared to doze off for at least 45 seconds before presumably later waking up.
- While the permit allows tests without a human operator behind the wheel, companies are still expected to have a “safety driver” who can take over in case of a system error or a potential accident.
- In the initial phase of such tests, vehicles usually have two people inside — one at the wheel watching the road and the other in charge of the software, according to Forbes.
- With being completely driverless as the ultimate goal for the car, the number of safety staff is reduced to one when confidence in the system improves.
- According to the person who uploaded the video, the car eventually accelerated and left the highway, which may indicate that the driver had taken over.
- WeRide has since revealed that the driver was suspended and eventually terminated following an investigation that determined that he failed to follow prescribed safety protocols.
- According to WeRide, they monitor the driving tests with “the operator in a control center and the in-vehicle driver (who) cross-check each other in regular mode throughout the road test to closely monitor the performance of the driver.”
- Acknowledging that such a method is “not the best way to monitor safety drivers’ status,” the company said it is continuously “optimizing [its] system and mechanism to reduce human intervention during [the] test to ensure the safety.”