Google's self-driving cars of tomorrow face the mean streets of today

Google's cars have been in 11 accidents in their six years of testing, the company says

This illustration shows how Google's self-driving car is programmed to slow down to avoid a car to its left making a right turn.

This illustration shows how Google's self-driving car is programmed to slow down to avoid a car to its left making a right turn.

Google says its self-driving cars can make driving safer because they pay better attention to the road than humans do - though there have been dings along the way.

While smartphones and other in-car distractions can fatally hinder a driver's concentration, "a self-driving car has people beat on this dimension of road safety," says Chris Urmson, director of Google's self-driving car program. With 360-degree visibility, the newest sensors in Google's fleet can keep track of other vehicles, cyclists, and pedestrians to a distance of nearly two football fields, he wrote in a post on Medium on Monday.

Still, Google's cars have been involved in 11 accidents in the six years the company has been testing them, Urmson reported. The fleet of 20-plus cars has covered 1.7 million miles of autonomous and manual driving in that time.

In all cases, there was only light damage and no injuries. And not once did a Google car cause the accident, he wrote.

Urmson's post appeared after the Associated Press reported on Monday that Google's cars had been involved in three accidents just since September. The post lays out some of what Google has learned so far in testing its cars, including observations on drivers' actions that can lead to collisions.

The post also highlights an issue that Google and other autonomous driving hopefuls must address before self-driving cars go mainstream: how to recognize and respond to the wacky driving habits of humans.

Take intersections: To account for the possibility of another driver running a red light, Google has programmed its cars to pause briefly after a light turns green before proceeding into the intersection.

With their software and sensors, Google's cars can take action earlier and faster than an alert human driver, he wrote. But sometimes they can't overcome the realities of speed and distance, and they get hit just waiting for a light to change.

Out of the 11 reported accidents, Google's cars have been hit from behind seven times, according to the post. That happened mainly at traffic lights but also on the freeway.

The company's cars have also been side-swiped a couple of times and hit by a car rolling through a stop sign, the post said.

Google's cars now average 16,000km of autonomous driving a week, mostly on city streets near Google's headquarters in Mountain View, California.

The post also illustrates some of the ways in which Google's cars have successfully reacted to human drivers' erratic actions. Google says it has observed drivers making right turns from the lane to the left of its self-driving cars, cutting sharply across the Google car's path.

In those cases, Google's car will slow down, Urmson wrote, "to avoid the car making this crazy turn."

Zach Miners covers social networking, search and general technology news for IDG News Service. Follow Zach on Twitter at @zachminers. Zach's e-mail address is zach_miners@idg.com

Join the newsletter!

Error: Please check your email address.
Rocket to Success - Your 10 Tips for Smarter ERP System Selection

Tags analyticsconsumer electronicsGoogleinternetsearch engines

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

Zach Miners

IDG News Service
Show Comments

Most Popular Reviews

Latest Articles

Resources

PCW Evaluation Team

Ben Ramsden

Sharp PN-40TC1 Huddle Board

Brainstorming, innovation, problem solving, and negotiation have all become much more productive and valuable if people can easily collaborate in real time with minimal friction.

Sarah Ieroianni

Brother QL-820NWB Professional Label Printer

The print quality also does not disappoint, it’s clear, bold, doesn’t smudge and the text is perfectly sized.

Ratchada Dunn

Sharp PN-40TC1 Huddle Board

The Huddle Board’s built in program; Sharp Touch Viewing software allows us to easily manipulate and edit our documents (jpegs and PDFs) all at the same time on the dashboard.

George Khoury

Sharp PN-40TC1 Huddle Board

The biggest perks for me would be that it comes with easy to use and comprehensive programs that make the collaboration process a whole lot more intuitive and organic

David Coyle

Brother PocketJet PJ-773 A4 Portable Thermal Printer

I rate the printer as a 5 out of 5 stars as it has been able to fit seamlessly into my busy and mobile lifestyle.

Kurt Hegetschweiler

Brother PocketJet PJ-773 A4 Portable Thermal Printer

It’s perfect for mobile workers. Just take it out — it’s small enough to sit anywhere — turn it on, load a sheet of paper, and start printing.

Featured Content

Latest Jobs

Don’t have an account? Sign up here

Don't have an account? Sign up now

Forgot password?