A Waymo autonomous vehicle  in Chandler, Ariz., in July. Photo by Bloomberg
Exclusive
Autonomous Vehicles Google

Troubled Waymo Worker Shows Human Problems Continue

Photo: A Waymo autonomous vehicle in Chandler, Ariz., in July. Photo by Bloomberg

When Waymo tests its self-driving car prototypes on public roads, teams of workers sit inside control rooms remotely monitoring their every move. Some of these workers—Waymo calls them “guardian angels”—are ready to push buttons that bring vehicles to a halt when safety concerns arise.

For five months in 2018 though, Waymo employed an individual as one of these guardians who was in federal prison five years ago and has a history of mental illness and substance abuse, The Information has learned. Among his past troubles, the worker previously sought to disrupt California’s power grid by shutting down a data center operated by his then-employer,  which managed the state’s electricity market, he admitted in a guilty plea in court. In recent weeks, Waymo, a unit of Google parent company Alphabet, fired the worker, telling some employees he posed a safety risk, a person briefed about it said.

The hiring of the worker, along with previously unreported issues involving Waymo backup drivers and recent interviews with former employees, raise fresh questions about the vetting of safety personnel by autonomous vehicle operators. The reliability of these workers could determine how quickly Waymo can expand its nascent robo-taxi service, which it is currently testing in several suburbs of Phoenix. Interviews with the people who have worked at the company also provide a rare window into the tools “remote assist dispatchers”—the job title of workers such as the recently dismissed contractor—use to try to prevent mishaps involving Waymo vehicles.

Get access to exclusive coverage
Read deeply reported stories from the largest newsroom in tech.
Latest Articles
 
Opinion Media/Telecom Entertainment
Why YouTube Sees Hollywood’s Future in the Creator Economy
Susanne Daniels. Photo by Bloomberg. Art by Mike Sullivan
Tuesday’s letter from YouTube Chief Business Officer Robert Kyncl to its 2 million–strong creator community—announcing that original content chief Susanne Daniels had resigned—read like the final salvo in YouTube’s recent PR campaign touting its creator economy successes. Consider: When Daniels started in her role in 2016, she was commissioning original scripted...
Latest Briefs
 
Google Urges Court To Throw Out Texas-led Antitrust Case Against Ad Tech Business
Twitter CEO Shakes Up Security Team
TikTok Owner ByteDance’s 2021 Revenue Rose 70%
Stay in the know
Receive a summary of the day's top tech news—distilled into one email.
Access on the go
View stories on our mobile app and tune into our weekly podcast.
Join live video Q&A’s
Deep-dive into topics like startups and autonomous vehicles with our top reporters and other executives.
Enjoy a clutter-free experience
Read without any banner ads.
Nick Tran. Photo by Hulu. Art by Mike Sullivan
Exclusive
TikTok’s Global Marketing Chief Abruptly Departs
TikTok’s leaders have pushed out Nick Tran, the company’s head of global marketing, two people familiar with the situation told The Information.
Images by Microsoft; Activision. Art by Mike Sullivan
News Analysis
Eight Takeaways From the Microsoft-Activision Deal
Microsoft’s $68.7 billion acquisition of Activision Blizzard may have caught the market by surprise, but the deal makes sense on a number of levels.
Microsoft's Chetan Nyak. Photo by Microsoft. Art by Mike Sullivan
The Big Interview Venture Capital Startups
Microsoft Quantum Computing Executive Sees Progress After Lagging Rivals
For more than 15 years, researchers at Microsoft have been chasing the idea of building a better quantum computer, an ultrapowerful machine that promises to accelerate everything from drug discovery to the development of electric batteries.
Art by Mike Sullivan
Exclusive Media/Telecom Entertainment
Inside the Battle for Streaming’s Home Screens: Hollywood Egos Collide With Algorithms
Last summer, executives at Eurosport—a London-based live sports TV network owned by U.S. media company Discovery—couldn’t believe their eyes.
Benchmark partner Sarah Tavel. Photo: Benchmark
Benchmark’s Approach to Crypto Takes a Page From Web 2.0
In the past year, venture capital firms with dedicated crypto arms like Andreessen Horowitz and crypto specialists such as Paradigm have gobbled up some of the hottest startups in the industry.
Art by Jesús Escudero
Opinion Asia Policy
China’s Tech Crackdown Is a Geopolitical Play
It hardly bears repeating that 2021 was a rough year for China’s platform companies. The firehose of new regulations and rolling crackdowns on everything from data security to overseas listings cost Chinese shares—including those of Didi, Meituan, Pinduoduo, JD.com, Tencent, and ByteDance— 42% of their cumulative value in the U.S.