Waymo will keep robotaxi safety details secret, court rules – TechCrunch

Waymo, the self-driving arm of Alphabet, scored a victory on Tuesday when a California court ruled it could keep certain details about its AV technology secret.

The company filed a lawsuit against the California Department of Motor Vehicles in late January to withhold certain information about its license to deploy autonomous vehicles, as well as emails between the DMV and the company, redacted with a request for public record, which was originally filed. by an undisclosed third party.

The decision by the California Superior Court in Sacramento could set a precedent for broader protection of trade secrets, at least in the autonomous vehicle industry, involving public access to information related to public safety, but which , according to the companies, contain trade secrets.

In its lawsuit, Waymo argued that being forced to reveal trade secrets would jeopardize its investments in automated driving technology and have a “chilling effect on the entire industry” where the DMV is not. plus a safe space for companies to seamlessly share information about their technology.

“We are pleased that the court made the right decision in granting Waymo’s request for a preliminary injunction, restraining the disclosure of competitively sensitive trade secrets that Waymo had included in the license application it submitted to the CA. DMV,” a Waymo spokesperson said. Tech Crunch. “We will continue to openly share safety data and other data about our autonomous driving technology and operations, while recognizing that the detailed technical information we share with regulators is not always appropriate to share with the public. .”

Like any other self-driving technology company looking to test and deploy in California, Waymo had to submit information about its safety practices and technology to the DMV, which then asked more specific questions. When the DMV received the public records request for Waymo’s license application information, the agency gave Waymo the option to redact any sections it deemed likely to reveal trade secrets. Waymo did, and the DMV sent the package to the third party with major parts blocked. The plaintiff disputed the power outages and the DMV, not wanting to be caught in the middle, advised Waymo to file a temporary retraining order against the DMV, according to Waymo. A judge then issued the restraining order on February 2, giving Waymo more time to seek an injunction forever prohibiting disclosure of the material in unredacted form.

Waymo has sued because it wants to protect details about how its AVs identify and navigate under certain conditions, how they determine when the AV will revert to a human driver, when to provide assistance to a AV fleet and how the company deals with disengagement incidents and collision incidents, according to the lawsuit.

“These R&D efforts take many years and a huge financial investment,” reads Waymo’s statement shared with the court. “Waymo’s AV development started as part of Google in 2009 before Waymo became its own company in 2016; therefore, Waymo’s AVs have been in development for over 12 years. Waymo has invested really large sums in research and development of its audiovisual products.

It is, however, difficult to determine whether or not the information actually contains trade secrets without being able to see any of it.

“The question is, can the business derive economic value just from not sharing this information with others?” Matthew Wansley, former general counsel at nuTonomy (acquired by Aptiv) and professor of law at Cardozo School of Law at Yeshiva University in New York, told TechCrunch.

Software failures that detail problems perceiving objects or predicting how other agents in the world will use them, for example, are highly confidential because they could reveal information about how the technology works, allowing competitors to copy them or simply to assess where they are relative. to a certain company, Wansley said. It therefore makes sense that a company would not want to share this information publicly. However, if a regulator wanted more information under the confidentiality pledge, Wansley said he would be much more willing to share because he trusts the regulator knows the technology isn’t perfect and is more concerned with reducing risks. risks rather than reducing them to zero.

“I went through the complaint filed by Waymo, and the categories of information they talk about are quite broad,” Wansley said. “Are there any trade secrets in this set of information they sent? Probably there are. Does it include all the information they sent? Almost certainly not. The only thing that would surprise me is if everything they claim to be a trade secret is actually a trade secret. But without knowing the specific information they share with regulators, it’s just hard to know.

And now the public will never know. While the business community might find this outcome a success, the State of California and the general public might have legitimate public safety concerns about self-driving vehicles, and they might not trust their regulators to be able to make decisions on their behalf.

AV technology is very complex and sophisticated and many regulators are not exactly engineers. Some would argue that the public has a right to verify whether critical, public-facing decisions are made correctly through public hearings or academic studies.

“I think in some ways it goes to the heart of how you build public trust in public vehicles if it’s just a black box?” Ryan Koppelman, intellectual property litigation attorney and partner at Alston & Bird, told TechCrunch. “And that’s a fundamental problem with self-driving vehicles, where it’s really just, data in, data out, and the results say it’s safe. So companies will say you don’t need to know what’s going on in the black box, just know it’s safe and trust us and trust the DMV, who peeked into the black box and approved it, and that should be good enough for the public.

For its part, Waymo highlighted the range of information it shares with the public to allay any fears about its technology. For example, it publishes a report on audiovisual security, submitted a security self-assessment to the US Department of Transportation, and publishes a guide to interacting with law enforcement and a detailed description of its security methodologies.


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