It has now just come to light that over two weeks ago, on the 14th of February to be precise, Google’s self-driving car had a novel way of celebrating valentine: by causing a car crash in California. This is news because with the sophisticated sensors and softwares in Google’s self-driving car, the last thing anybody expects to hear is a crash caused by the autonomous car.
Google’s self-driving cars have being involved in quite a few accidents before. Since the cars debuted in Austin last year for testing in real life conditions, they have being involved in several accidents. All of them caused by human errors from other motorists. Google was quick to to emphasis the point that the autonomous cars were not at fault. It was a piece of brilliant PR by Google. And it enhaced the image of the car as safer than other cars.
Google did the right thing though, by filing an accident report to the California DMV a week after the accident. But the report was made public only yesterday. According the the report, the self-driving car was trying to avoid sandbags placed around a storm drain on the road when the accident happened
The report went further to explain that Google’s self-driving car was in autonmous mode at a speed of 2mph while the bus was moving at a speed of about 15mph when the accident occurred. But no injuries were reported. And the only damage to the car were to the front left wheel and fender of the Google’s self-driving car. Just your regular fender-bender, except that it happened to a driver-less car.
Google is not running away from this one though. In statement bearing responsibility for the crash Google said that,”we clearly bear some responsibility.” But insists, in the same statement that the incident is the sort of thing that happens everyday on roads between motorists.
Apart from the report to the California DMV Google has also released a description of what happened on valentine’s day. The report concluded by saying’
”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. That said, our test driver believed the bus was going to slow or stop to allow us to merge into the traffic, and that there would be sufficient space to do that.
We’ve now reviewed this incident (and thousands of variations on it) in our simulator in detail and made refinements to our software. From now on, our cars will more deeply understand that buses (and other large vehicles) are less likely to yield to us than other types of vehicles, and we hope to handle situations like this more gracefully in the future.”
In other words, Google is saying it is going to change or modify the software in the car. This is how it is supposed to be. Though it is big news, it should be borne in mind that Google’s self-driving cars are still in testing mode. It is incidents like this that are needed to help fine-tuned the overall design of the car.