Google’s autonomous, self-driving robot cars have been on America’s roadways for several years now, and already the driverless vehicles have been involved in a number of high-profile crashes.
In October 2015, the California Department of Motor Vehicles released details on all recorded vehicle collisions involving self-driving cars, and every single accident involved human error. In eight of the incidents, human beings caused a collision with the driverless cars. The ninth accident was attributed to a self-driving car, but only because a human being was temporarily in control behind the wheel.
But this March, news finally broke of an autonomous auto itself causing a collision. A video of the incident shows a Google self-driving Lexus sideswiped a public bus in Silicon Valley’s Mountain View, CA. According to Google, before making a right-hand turn, the car’s computer anticipated that the bus would allow the Lexus “into the flow of traffic.” A Google employee was inside the car during the incident, and the employee came to the same wrong conclusion.
Instead, the Lexus scraped against the side of the passenger bus. Luckily, at 15 miles per hour, it was a low-speed collision that didn’t cause any reported injuries, at least not to any human beings. The computer wasn’t so fortunate.
Google reported that “the impact crumpled the Lexus’ front left side, flattened the tire, and tore off the radar Google had installed to help the SUV perceive its surroundings,” while the bus received scratches and broken glass.
“This is a classic example of the negotiation that’s a normal part of driving — we’re all trying to predict each other’s movements. In this case, we clearly bear some responsibility, because if our car hadn’t moved there wouldn’t have been a collision,” Google wrote following the crash.
Auto makers, governments, and technology companies like Google are all racing to invest in autonomous cars. U.S. Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx predicts that these self-driving cars could prevent 80% of all car crashes, saving countless lives.
On-demand service companies like Uber are eager to implement the technology, as well. While hybrids are 20-35% more fuel efficient, new governmental standards have also placed new pressures on car companies. Many car makers are now so desperate to cut weight from their vehicles that 40% of new vehicles are made without wheel wells or extra tires.
Why not get rid of the driver as well? Even following the Google crash, transportation officials are defending the new technology as the future of transportation.
“It’s not a surprise that at some point there would be a crash of any technology that’s on the road,” Foxx said. “But I would challenge one to look at the number of crashes that occurred on the same day that were the result of human behaviour.”
Image Source: Michael Shick