Google's Autonomous Car Gets Into Its First Accident

Monday, 29 February 2016 - 5:25PM
Robotics
Monday, 29 February 2016 - 5:25PM
Google's Autonomous Car Gets Into Its First Accident
Google's self-driving car may have spoiled its perfect record. The autonomous vehicle crashed into a bus earlier today, and while the accident was minor (with no injuries to either human party), it may be the first accident caused by Google's robotic car.

Google's self-driving car has technically been in accidents prior to this one, but they have always been unequivocally due to human error. This time, the accident may have been the result of the car's miscalculation. It occurred when the car was attempting to maneuver into the center lane, and assumed that an oncoming bus would slow down in order to give it room to change lanes. When the bus didn't slow down, the vehicles collided, damaging the front end of the car. 

Google hasn't claimed the responsibility for this accident entirely, but rather chalks it up to a typical misunderstanding that humans make on the road every day. In a statement (via Engadget), they claimed that it was the result of both sides making too many assumptions, which is a "normal part of driving":

Opening quote
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.
Closing quote

The accident is probably not a major setback in the big picture, since it was minor and the ongoing road tests are intended to work out any kinks. Plus, it's simply inevitable that as long as there are human drivers on the road whose movements are not 100% predictable, there will necessarily be miscalculations. If anything, this accident may demonstrate that self-driving cars will have a greater effect on the safety of the roads when the usage is widespread; otherwise, we'll just have perfectly predictable robotic cars trying vainly to predict humans' irrational decisions.

However, Google maintains that even one self-driving car will make a difference (and they're probably right). As self-driving project lead Chris Urmson said today at a transportation event (via Gizmodo), "Having one of them on the road makes that person safer and makes everyone around them safer."
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