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Autonomous Vehicles

Published on March 15th, 2016 | by James Ayre


Google’s Autonomous Cars Get In 1st “Chargeable Accident” (Video)

March 15th, 2016 by  

Google’s self-driving cars have, for the first time, been in an accident that may have been their own fault, according to recent reports. The accident in question is the case of one of the company’s autonomous cars crashing into a bus in California last month.

While there were no injuries, and the accident was a rather minor one, it’s still quite notable as this is apparently the first time that an autonomous Google car made such a bad decision. (Human drivers make terrible decisions everyday of course, but that’s a different story….)

A reminder here, though — while this is the first time one of the autonomous cars have seemingly caused an accident, it’s not really clear how many accidents would have been caused over the past few years had the drivers monitoring the autonomous cars not taken control in dangerous situations.

BBC News provides some specifics on the recent news:

Google is to meet with California’s Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV) to discuss the incident, and determine where the blame lies.

On 14 February the car, travelling at 2 mph (3 km/h), pulled out in front of a public bus going 15 mph (24 km/h). The human in the Google vehicle reported that he assumed the bus would slow down to let the car out, and so he did not override the car’s self-driving computer. The crash happened in Mountain View, near Google’s headquarters.

…The company’s self-driving cars have clocked up well over a million miles across various states in the US, and until now have only reported minor “fender benders” — the American slang for a small collision. In all of those cases, other road users were to blame.

A representative from Google released the following statement on the matter: “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.”

“The Google AV (autonomous vehicle) test driver saw the bus approaching in the left side mirror but believed the bus would stop or slow to allow the Google AV to continue. Approximately 3 seconds later, as the Google AV was re-entering the centre of the lane it made contact with the side of the bus. The Google AV was operating in autonomous mode and traveling at less than 2 mph, and the bus was traveling at about 15 mph at the time of contact.”

The situation was reportedly made more complex by the presence of sandbags on the road. Construction zones are of course a known issue for autonomous cars.

The company has reportedly now improved its algorithm to avoid such accidents in the future.

“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.” 


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About the Author

James Ayre's background is predominantly in geopolitics and history, but he has an obsessive interest in pretty much everything. After an early life spent in the Imperial Free City of Dortmund, James followed the river Ruhr to Cofbuokheim, where he attended the University of Astnide. And where he also briefly considered entering the coal mining business. He currently writes for a living, on a broad variety of subjects, ranging from science, to politics, to military history, to renewable energy.

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