The inevitable, some might say, has happened: Google’s self-driving cars have bent a fender or two while testing on public roads.
Not just one collision, in fact, but a total of 11 'incidents' have already been clocked up during testing by the more than 20 vehicles involved in the project - all of them described as "minor".
And here’s the good news for those interested in the merits of autonomous cars: Google sheets the blame for all of the collisions to driver error, and not its software.
Furthermore, as the Google program has clocked up 1.7 million miles (2.7 million kilometres) of testing, that’s just one collision per 245,454km.
That statistic doesn’t include the collisions that were avoided thanks to some quick thinking from the software - dare we say, in some instances; quicker than a human could react.
The crash data was revealed by the Director of Google’s autonomous car program, Chris Urmson, in a blog entry for Medium.
Mr Urmson said his team was analysing the data and the potential impact of autonomous cars on reducing road trauma.
As minor collisions in the US (and in Australia) aren’t recorded in ‘official’ police statistics, Google is now using its experiences on public roads to attempt to determine how often its cars will be involved in ‘unavoidable’ collisions.
Mr Urmson said these collisions - which he described as “light damage, no injuries” - aren’t well understood but the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) says they account for 55 percent of the collisions on US roads.
The program Director said 94 percent of collisions were caused by driver error, with rear-end collisions being the most common (again, it’s the same in Australia).
Urmson says his cars have been hit from behind on seven occasions, both at traffic lights and on the freeway, while the other incidents include two ‘side-swipes’ and another driver failing to stop at a Stop sign.
While none of the incidents were the fault of Google’s software, Mr Urmson said his team were gathering as much data from them as possible to identify the challenges autonomous cars might face when they are eventually available to the public.
Urmson said challenges such as drivers drifting out of lanes, running red lights and driver distraction need to be considered for future changes to the software.
Google staff have reported people reading books while driving, checking mobile phones and even a driver playing the trumpet.
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