Alphabet Inc.’s Google has constantly assured autonomous car enthusiasts that the first such car that is ready for mass market will roll out of the production line in 2020. But it appears that promise is far-fetched.
The Mountain View, CA-based company recently released facts; some were positive, and others wanting. One setback is that the self-driving cars were involved in 11 minor accidents over the past six years, causing eager fanatics to start doubting whether they will ever lay their hands on the machines any time soon.
Google Blamed Human Error For Past Crashes
Worryingly, the number of crashes that the Google cars vary depending on who you ask. Google itself says it is 16 since 2009, with most of them caused by human errors. For example, one of the Google self-driving cars recently reached a crosswalk, where a pedestrian was about to cross. As should be, its much-touted Google Chauffeur, the self-driving software promptly applied the brakes, allowing the pedestrian to pass without any incident.
However, the Google’s car was hit from behind by a sedan driven by a human. Actually, Google reports that most of the accidents involved human-piloted cars hitting its cars from behind, with none of its Google cars being at fault (Source: “Google’s Driverless Cars Run Into Problem: Cars With Drivers,” New York Times, September 1, 2015).
While this is partly true, Google has programmed its fleet of self-driving cars to religiously stick to traffic laws. However, it is a lofty idea to think that you can easily move around if you are a fossilized stickler for the road rules.
In fact, one Google car tested in 2009 failed to move past a four-way stop intersection simply because its sensors waited until all human drivers completely stopped to let it go. The human-driven cars repeatedly inched forward as they looked for an advantage to pass, completely paralyzing the Google car.
Google’s Self-Driving Car Now Has Its Share
However, this noise about human-driven cars being the primary cause of accident has just died out.
On Feb. 14, a Google Car was involved in a fender-bender with a bus in what, in Google’s own admission, is the first accident caused by the car’s own self-driving software. In a filing with California regulatory authorities Feb. 23, Google reported that the crash occurred in Mountain View as its autonomous Lexus RX450h tried to avoid hitting some sandbags placed in a wide lane (Source: “Google says it bears ‘some responsibility’ after self-driving car hit bus“, Reuters, February 29, 2015).
The computer glitch occurred as the self-driving car moved at low-speed of under 2 miles per hour, with the bus hurtling at approximately 15 miles per hour. The software, along with its test driver, though the bus would slow or stop to give way to the autonomous vehicle, but it didnt, resulting in a minor crash with no injuries.
So far, Google Cars have logged almost 1.5 million miles in self-driving mode. Last month’s accident is widely believed to be the first to have been caused by an autonomous vehicle belonging to Alphabet Inc.’s Google X unit that conducts futuristic research, including that on self-driving automobiles.