#Asia Google car accident raises questions, but sets more important precedent in process


If driverless cars are going to become the transportation of the future, the public needs to be informed when the technology fails

Google FINAL

This was inevitable.

On Monday, a standard, boring, accident report was officially made public by the California Department of Motor Vehicles. It involved a very minor Valentine’s Day sideswipe. Normally, if an accident like this even registered on a journalist’s radar, it would be immediately dismissed and tossed in the bin.

Except one of the vehicles involved was a Google-owned driverless car, which has been advocated as the future for global transportation.

It was also the first accident caused by a driverless car during testing — Google autonomous vehicles (AVs) have been involved in more than a dozen accidents, but every incident before had been the result of human error.

What’s more, the Internet giant admits some culpability in the accident in a statement given to e27.

This is a classic example of the negotiation that’s a normal part of driving — we’re all trying to predict each other’s movements. In this case, 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.

While trying to make a right-hand turn (hugging the sidewalk to allow vehicles going straight to pass) the AV encountered a sandbag around a storm drain and was forced to stop.

As a bus approached, the AV believed it could make a move into the centre of the lane to swerve around the sandbags. It believed the bus would slow down or stop upon seeing the move. But, by the time the legally-required driver realised a collision was imminent, it was too late to grab the wheel and the Google AV sideswiped the bus.

Nobody was injured and it was a slow-speed accident — the car was travelling at 2 mph (3.21 kph) and the bus was going an estimated 15 mph (24.1 kph).

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This accident falls well within the acceptable range of human error and the AV did not do anything insane (like swerving without stopping) upon registering the sandbags. In an objective analysis of the technology, it performed remarkably well.

However, remarkably well is not good enough for this technology. It needs to be perfect.

The accident brings up the question of whether a human’s natural self-preservation mechanism may have meant staying behind the sandbag until it was absolutely clear (or on the flip side, a hyper-aggressive driver making a decision a robot would consider ‘reckless’ but also not getting in the accident).

The problem for Google, and the driverless car technology globally, is to convince people to give up control of the vehicle. While evidence points to driverless vehicles being much safer than traditional cars, the irrationality of the human condition will require a technology that can overcome the fear of losing control to become widely adopted.

Because if it is not used universally, it is a relatively pointless waste of money.

But, there was a more important takeaway from the incident.

Google just set precedent for how to properly handle such mistakes and the company should be applauded for its transparency with the accident. Moving forward, other companies and governments need to follow suite.

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Driverless vehicles have the potential to revolutionise modern society (maybe for the better, maybe not) making it important for problems with the technology to be public knowledge.

Societies need to grapple with technological, ethical and logistical dilemmas and cannot do so if they do not fully understand the product.

To elaborate, no single invention made more of an impact on American (and in some respects global) culture, infrastructure, economy and everyday life as the car. Nothing.

Driverless vehicles, if the plan stays on its current path, seems to have the potential for an equivalent impact worldwide. Adoption would require redesigning entire national infrastructure plans just to accommodate the invention.

If the cars make mistakes and get into accidents (even a minor fender bender), the public needs to be told, so at least we are aware of what we are getting ourselves into.

In the first incident of an AV causing an accident, Google has essentially let the media come inside and poke around. As they are unwillingly the precedent-setter, we should be very grateful they did not try to bury the accident.

The post Google car accident raises questions, but sets more important precedent in process appeared first on e27.

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