Google Blames a Human for its Robo-Car Crash

The auto-pilot-equipped Prius was actually flipped into manual mode when the accident happened, Google says.

One of Google's self-driving cars got into an accident earlier this week. But Google is claiming the auto-pilot-equipped Prius was actually flipped into manual mode when the accident happened, making this a case of user error.

The news initially came from a Jalopnik reader who sent the auto blog a photo of the fender-bender with another Prius near Google's Mountain View, California headquarters. The accident appears to be minor and no one was hurt, judging by the photo. Jalopnik and many other websites reported the incident as the "first caused by Google's self-driving car," which prompted a quick response from a Google spokesperson.

In a statement sent to Business Insider, that spokesperson clarified that the car (and Google's software) wasn't to blame for the Prius-on-Prius accident; its driver was.

"Safety is our top priority. One of our goals is to prevent fender-benders like this one, which occurred while a person was manually driving the car," the spokesperson said.

Google's self-driving cars use a combination of video cameras, radar sensors, and laser range finders to see other cars and rely on Google Maps and Earth to navigate the road, Google Software Engineer Sebastian Thrun says in a blog post in October 2010. He also points out that the autonomous cars had trained drivers and software engineers inside during testing.

Naturally if an accident were to occur while the car was in auto-pilot, it could cause some serious problems for Google's project. Let's go out on a limb and hypothesize that the car was to blame, even partially. It would be much easier for Google to have an employee take the fall rather than the software. Not to mention that it would probably next to impossible to prove otherwise.

CNET's Chris Matyszczyk asked a few of those tough questions in a post earlier today:

"And, though Google might--in a left-brained manner--want us to believe that is human error, its deftly phrased spokes-quote didn't suggest there was any error at all," he wrote. "So the 'person' was 'manually driving the car.' But no word on whether the 'person' made a mistake. Or whether the car did."

Matyszczyk asked Google to release more information on the incident to try to get to the bottom of the situation. Google only offered one additional bit of information: the car's logs confirmed it was in manual mode.

(See also Google's Self-Driving Cars: A Ride Down Memory Lane.")

Join the newsletter!

Or

Sign up to gain exclusive access to email subscriptions, event invitations, competitions, giveaways, and much more.

Membership is free, and your security and privacy remain protected. View our privacy policy before signing up.

Error: Please check your email address.

Tags Googlerobotsconsumer electronicsgadgets

Keep up with the latest tech news, reviews and previews by subscribing to the Good Gear Guide newsletter.

Paul Suarez

PC World (US online)
Show Comments

Most Popular Reviews

Latest Articles

Resources

PCW Evaluation Team

Tom Pope

Dynabook Portégé X30L-G

Ultimately this laptop has achieved everything I would hope for in a laptop for work, while fitting that into a form factor and weight that is remarkable.

Tom Sellers

MSI P65

This smart laptop was enjoyable to use and great to work on – creating content was super simple.

Lolita Wang

MSI GT76

It really doesn’t get more “gaming laptop” than this.

Jack Jeffries

MSI GS75

As the Maserati or BMW of laptops, it would fit perfectly in the hands of a professional needing firepower under the hood, sophistication and class on the surface, and gaming prowess (sports mode if you will) in between.

Taylor Carr

MSI PS63

The MSI PS63 is an amazing laptop and I would definitely consider buying one in the future.

Christopher Low

Brother RJ-4230B

This small mobile printer is exactly what I need for invoicing and other jobs such as sending fellow tradesman details or step-by-step instructions that I can easily print off from my phone or the Web.

Featured Content

Don’t have an account? Sign up here

Don't have an account? Sign up now

Forgot password?