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Google's self-driving car error results in minor bus collision

It was announced today (1 March) that a self-driving Google car was involved in a crash with a bus last month during a test drive in California, USA. There were no reported injuries.

The incident is the first to result in Google accepting partial responsibility – although the Californian Department of Motor Vehicles has not officially deemed either party to be at fault. Previously, Google has said of the 17 minor collisions that happened during the 1.3 million miles driven by their AVs since 2009, “Not once was the self-driving car the cause of the accident.”

In a statement released on Monday, February 29, 2016, Google said, “We clearly bear some responsibility, because if our car hadn’t moved, there wouldn’t have been a collision. That said, our test driver believed the bus was going to slow or stop to allow us to merge into the traffic, and that there would be sufficient space to do that."

In the moments before the crash on February 14, the Google AV was travelling at less than 2mph (3.2km/h) on El Camino Real in Mountain View in northern California and then moved to the right-hand lane to prepare to turn right into Castro Street. Sandbags positioned around a storm drain were detected by the vehicle, causing it to stop.

“After a few cars had passed, the Google AV began to proceed back into the center of the lane to pass the sand bags,” said the statement on a report filed by California regulators. “A public transit bus [travelling at 15mph (24km/h)] was approaching from behind. The Google AV test driver saw the bus approaching in the left side mirror but believed the bus would stop or slow to allow the Google AV to continue. Approximately three seconds later, as the Google AV was re-entering the center of the lane it made contact with the side of the bus.”

It is believed that the sandbags added to the complexity of the autonomous vehicle’s movements during its test drive.

 [An example of Google's self-driving car simulation, compare to what it 'sees' in real life]

On February 10 2016, the US National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) deemed Google’s self-driving cars to be be considered legal drivers in the eyes of the law, but with the crash occurring just four days later, fears could be raised over the safety of the vehicles' ‘judgements’.

However, Google’s self-driving cars are still in their testing phase, and so far, their error rate compares well to humans; in 2014, there were 30,000 fatal car crashes, caused by humans in the USA alone.

Google has since modified its vehicle software to prevent similar errors happening in the future.

"From now on, our cars will more deeply understand that buses (and other large vehicles) are less likely to yield to us than other types of vehicles, and we hope to handle situations like this more gracefully in the future," a statement from Google said.

For more results of the latest autonomous vehicle testing, don't miss the Autonomous Vehicle Test & Development Symposium, May 31 to June 2, 2016, in Stuttgart, Germany. For more information about the event, visit: autonomousvehiclesymposium.com

To learn more about how Google is testing and developing its autonomous vehicles, click here

March 1, 2016

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