A Google autonomous vehicle struck a public bus due to an unexpected situation during a testing session in Silicon Valley. While the accident was hardly serious and nobody was harmed – the kind of fender-bender that happens hundreds of times on a daily basis – it caused quite the discussion simply because it was about Google’s proclaimed future of driving. Or rather lack thereof.
The Google AV – a Lexus SUV – ended up hitting the side of a bus on February 14th, after the vehicle ended up misjudging the intentions of the bus driver. The real culprit behind it all was an obstacle that the AV found. The sensors packed into the car detected sandbags around a storm drain in the intersection where the vehicle wanted to take a right.
While the right lane would normally be wide enough to let some cars turn right or go straight, the Google AV was put in the situation where it had to steer left a small amount to avoid the sandbags. And that’s where it happened.
While the Google AV was driving at 2 miles per hour and the sensors did everything they were supposed to – detecting the bus, tracking it, believing it was going to slow down – it turns out the driver of the bus didn’t. The bus, moving at 15 miles per hour, didn’t slow down or attempt to steer slightly to the left in order to avoid collision, and it resulted in the Google AV crashing into the side of the other vehicle.
Google’s statements on the situation is that while they can’t excuse the car completely, the situation was certainly not black and white. The company claims that the AV was already moving before the bus even reached the place of the incident. Meanwhile, the test driver that was in the vehicle at the time also believed the bus would slow down and didn’t even have time to take physical control of the car in order to avoid impact.
The transit agency is not likely to pursue this case in order make a legal decision regarding whose fault it was. The damage was negligible on both ends, and neither Google nor the agency seems to want to continue the investigations. While it’s not the first time a Google AV crashes or is involved in an accident, it is the first time one occurs as a result of the vehicle’s decisions and not human error.
The written statement sent afterwards by Google describes that this is a classic example of drivers trying to predict each other’s movements. As a result, Google announced that they have modified the software of the car to understand that buses are not as likely to yield as other vehicles in traffic. While the accident was hardly worth remembering, in order to make the autonomous car a thing, Google will have to do everything in its power to make the vehicle’s system perfect.
Image Source: 1