By Driving_Google_Self-Driving_Car.jpg: Steve Jurvetson derivative work: Mariordo [CC BY 2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

Bound to Happen: Self-driving Test Cars Having Accidents

The New York Times and AP brings us news that 4 of Google’s 50 self-driving test cars have been involved in accidents:

Two accidents happened while the cars were in control; in the other two, the person who still must be behind the wheel was driving, a person familiar with the accident reports told The Associated Press.

 

Three involved Lexus SUVs that Google Inc. outfitted with sensors and computing power in its aggressive effort to develop “autonomous driving,” a goal the tech giant shares with traditional automakers. The parts supplier Delphi Automotive had the other accident with one of its two test vehicles.

 

Google and Delphi said their cars were not at fault in any accidents, which the companies said were minor.

 

This is either a moment for Fox News-style alarm, or for the adults to take over.  Since I’m an adult, and this is my platform, you can guess my response.

Accidents will happen, period.  I’d rather read about these incidents than be lulled into thinking self-driving technology is flawless as a result of no media coverage.  Those who believe we are 24 months away from driverless cars–complete with no wheels or pedals–are “all wet”.

Implementing the technology and integrating it with American roads will be a much longer process than even the optimists think.  We have got so many things to sort out–adaptation, machine learning (literally), new measures of safety, changes in roads, improvements in markings, designation of self-driving lanes, highway funding, etc; it will be at least 5 years before we start to see the proper integration of self-driving cars into our automotive landscape.

The most troubling part of the story is below:

The fact that neither the companies nor the state have revealed the accidents troubles some who say the public should have information to monitor the rollout of technology that its own developers acknowledge is imperfect.

 

People have got to know about the ups and downs with this technology.  It’s not on a similar adoption arc as hybrid power. If you have a problem with your hybrid battery or powertrain, you end up with a 2500 lb. boat anchor.  A problem with a self-driving system is a completely different animal.  The average PR flack isn’t likely to volunteer this information, so we need to inject transparency into this enterprise.

Information on these accidents were supplied by unnamed sources not authorized to talk about them in public.  Otherwise known as whistle-blowers.  First, we should thank them. Second, we should figure out how to force car and technology companies to be transparent on these matters.

Update: May 12, 2015:

The fine folks at High Gear Media posted a story that Google has now self-reported 11 fleet accidents since 2009.  Although we applaud their transparency, we question why it took a public report to get there.

What are your thoughts?  Let’s discuss in comments below.

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Sebastian James

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