Google’s self driving car initiative is one of the most ambitious and controversial projects currently under the scrutiny of the public eye. Although the search giant has had six years of experience under their belt with only 17 minor accidents occurring across over two million miles of test driving, this month marks the first time that a self-driving vehicle bore any culpability in a traffic incident.
On Valentine’s Day, February 14, 2016, a self-driving Lexus RX450h attempted to navigate around some sandbags placed in a wide lane. A bus traveling at 15 mph approached the Google car from behind, occupying same wide lane as the smart car. The Lexus attempted to re-enter the center of the lane while moving at a speed of 2 mph.
Google reported in a statement last week that the smart car anticipated that the bus would slow down to allow the self driving car to continue, but the bus did not. When the smart car re-entered the center of the lane, it struck the side of the bus causing minor damage to the front left fender, front wheel, and a sensor. There were no injuries, and no police report was filed.
In spite of the lack of police involvement, which usually determines culpability, Google says they are at least partially responsible for the incident. Their traffic algorithms take into account the common practice of vehicles slowing down to accommodate the merging of others. It would appear that buses and similar large vehicles are less likely to slow down in these situations, and Google says they are making adjustments based on this and “thousands of variations on it in our simulator,” to make their vehicles “more deeply understand that buses (and other large vehicles) are less likely to yield to us than other types of vehicles.”
Google is taking a stance that this is all a part of the learning process, but even extremely small incidents like this can be damaging to the development of self driving cars. Although many futurists believe that this revolution is inevitable, public fear and concerns that feed on smart-car culpable accidents may seriously delay this technology becoming mainstream.
What are your thoughts regarding self driving cars? Robbing us of our autonomy, or heralding a bright new world of technology? Let us know your opinion and predictions in the comments below!