California shares details of self-driving car accidents

Interesting, Others | June 23rd, 2015 by 12
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Recently, news has broken that there have been some car accidents involving some of Google’s and Delphi’s self-driving cars. In the past few years, these …

Recently, news has broken that there have been some car accidents involving some of Google’s and Delphi’s self-driving cars. In the past few years, these companies have been running autonomous prototypes around the Silicon Valley towns of Mountain View and Palo Alto. Each company has logged an incredible amount of miles for their self-driving cars (Google has run approximately 1.8 million autonomous miles while Delphi’s numbers aren’t known), and they have reported very few accidents with them all supposedly causing only minor property damage. Apparently, though, that may not necessarily be the case.

Last Thursday, California state officials have reported six accidents involving self-driving cars. To do so, they needed to reverse a policy which held reports of accidents involving self-driving cars confidential to the public. Of the six accidents, five were by Google owned Lexus SUVs outfitted for autonomous duty and one was by a Delphi owned Audi. In four of the five Google accidents, the cars were driving autonomously, while in the fifth, a driver took over when realizing an accident was imminent but was hit in the right rear by an Audi S6. Not much info on the Delphi accident, except that it was while waiting at an intersection, so it may not be the car’s fault.

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Google has been assuring us for years that these autonomous vehicles have been running more safely and accident free than human operated cars over the same period of time. However, with four accidents happening within the span of approximately 100,000 miles, and the lack of necessity for Google to publicize its accidents, how many have there really been? It seems illogical that the largest cluster of accidents would occur at a time when autonomous driving technology is at its absolute peak. It stands to reason that there was a far higher accident rate years ago, but companies didn’t have to report them, as it was for prototype testing purposes, so we couldn’t call their bluffs.

These reports just go to show that autonomous driving is still a long way off. It’s very impressive when cars can park themselves and act as autonomous valets, a la the new BMW 7 Series, but actual long distance driving on public roads is far from being a reality. It seems as if there are just too many unknown variables for a car to drive itself completely though traffic dominated by unpredictable human drivers. However, we’re moving in the right direction with accident reports now being reported. This way, we can further gauge the real dangers of having cars pilot themselves down our public highways, instead of having Google be doing this in secret and us being none the wiser.

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What if someone had gotten seriously injured by one of these autonomous vehicles? How do they explain that? I’m not against the idea of self-driving cars, but when it comes to what could be human lives at stake, it seems like a strange dynamic. If an autonomous vehicle senses an inevitable crash, whether it be with another car or veering into a tree to avoid the other car, how does it make that decision? If it veers into the tree it won’t hit the other car, therefore saving the lives of the people in it. But if it hits the tree, it almost certainly ends the lives of the people in its own car. How does it make that judgement? It’s just a weird moral dynamic that I don’t think we’re ready for just yet. But it will certainly be interesting to see how it all unfolds now that we will be getting more crash information.

[Source: AP]

12 responses to “California shares details of self-driving car accidents”

  1. CDspeed says:

    I’d like autonomous drive to be an advanced cruise control, I don’t think responsibility should ever be completely taken away from the owner of the car. And I think it is stupid to ever assume that any technology is perfect or will ever bring perfect safety. How many times have you been in a store, and the cash register isn’t working, do you really want to trust an electronic system to take the wheel?

    • Michael says:

      I second CDSpeed’s sentiments, at least for now. I think that technology has the ability to evolve to a level which could significantly reduce the risks of driving. However, it is evident that now is not that time. I’m certainly not interested in handing over the joy of driving to a system but as an advanced cruise control which could be engaged in non-amusing instances like traffic and highway driving and disengaged on windy rural backroads, I’d be more than willing to embrace it.

    • Hugo says:

      Have you ever been given the wrong amount from an ATM? Has your airbag ever deployed when not in an accident? Airplanes fly mostly autonomous and the biggest accidents are humans interfering with the machines.
      Technology can be near perfect, there are thousands of accidents every hour by humans machines don’t have to do much to improve on us, I’d rather put my life in the gears of well engineered and tested machine than a nervous human who wants to speed past that truck or flip of the driver in front because he was cut of first. Autonomous driving will make a quick adoption when it’s clear how much less accidents will happen and insurance companies will add hefty premiums people who want to drive themself. I wonder why the article’s language is exceptionally shy to mention that all the Google accidents were the fault of (mostly impatient) humans? It’s not hard to find that data

      • CDspeed says:

        Your dreaming, your also making up accident scenarios. There is no such thing as perfection, and I have heard of airbags deploying at odd times, people have been in accidents, and had them fail to deploy. ATM machines fail too, and now we have to worry about skimmers stealing your information, and what about hackers what happens when someone figures out how to remotely steal your car? Maybe we could also make the process of getting a license more rigorous to make sure everyone has better driving skills. And we could especially make laws to ban cell phone use behind the wheel. Accidents happen, they are a part of life, and not just in our cars, but expecting perfection is stupid. Autonomous drive could add an additional safety feature but it won’t turn roads into an accident free utopia.

        • Hugo says:

          You compared it to cash registers in shops (which are NOT autonomous devices) The “fails” you speak of are statistically non-existing whereas human accidents are a terribly high statistic. Car thefts are much MUCH lower for newer cars that have tracking, modern keys. Traffic accidents shouldn’t be “part of life”, I think the world would be very happy if they were at the level of ATM fails/hacks, hell even a slight reduction in accidents would be a benefit, but as with anything there’s always opposition to new things, doom scenarios and negative consequences were also circulated with the introduction of seatbelts…

          • To talk about your first few points, simple malfunctions with Takata airbags have been causing fatal injuries due to airbags improperly deploying. The slightest malfunction killed innocent people in extremely low speed accidents. And yes, airplanes do have autonomous piloting, however, they aren’t crisscrossing with other planes in the sky and stopping at stoplights, stop signs and making corrections for the human error of other pilots in the sky on an extremely consistent basis. Autonomous driving isn’t an impossibility, nor should it be completely disregarded due to any potential dangers. But we simply aren’t ready for machines to be interacting on their own on our roadways with us. No matter how good a computer can be programmed, like Dat510 said below me, they still follow algorithm based programming. Humans are unpredictable and dangerous and simply cannot be entirely accounted for through programming.

          • Hugo says:

            “Six (6) fatalities and more than 100 injuries have been linked to the Takata airbags”, 30mln (30.000.000) cars have/had such airbags (and lives saved by airbags also makes those 6 a virtually nonexisting statistic), if anything it proves that even if a technology is faulty it can be resolved with much less harm than humans can inflict. I don’t think you understand the complexity of modern aviation nor what modern computing is capable of, it’s not BASIC anymore.

          • Of course the pros far outweigh the cons, I’m not debating that with you or how complex computing has gotten. I completely understand that autonomous driving is possible. But I think you’re underestimating the magnitude of even the slightest malfunction. Yes, only six deaths and 100 injuries from Takata, but that’s six deaths and 100 injuries too many, all caused by a simple malfunction. Like I stated before, autonomous driving isn’t impossible and it should be explored. But it isn’t even close to mass-production ready and neither are we.

          • Hugo says:

            There is no logic between “Of course the pros far outweigh the cons” and “but that’s six deaths and 100 injuries too many”. The thousands of road deaths per day, all caused by a simple distraction, are too many.

            Somebody has to start, this is not going to go from the current experiments to flawless mass-production, somebody will have to bring it to market first which I think will happen relatively soon and once that happens and proves it’s worth it will be a quick adoption (I think it will be the kind of adoption that was seen with airbags, seatbelts…)

          • CDspeed says:

            I used registers as an example of a simple piece of technology that effects daily life, a simple failed internet connection can hault a credit card transaction. And as the last sentence of my previous reply says, autonomous drive could add to your car’s safety, I do admit it will be yet another safety feature, and probably bring accident numbers down. My i3 already has automatic breaking when it detects slower moving vehicles, and pedestrians, so I already have an extra set of eyes watching the road that can stop when necessary. I’m not opposing something new, I’m an electric car owner so obviously I’m open to new things. I’m being realistic, technology is not perfect, and people should possess the necessary skills to operate cars, and have the right to drive the car they own. You said “I’d rather put my life in the gears of well engineered and tested machine than a nervous human who wants to speed past that truck or flip of the driver in front because he was cut of first.”, the things your dreaming up don’t happen very often either, that is one reason nothing is perfect, there are millions of possibilities no man or machine can ever account for.

  2. Dat510 says:

    Driving is a heuristic task, not an algorithmic one, and machine can only process algorithm programmed into them.

  3. johnG says:

    I believe the autonomous car will change society as we know it today — it will be tremendously disruptive to major industries. No more clogged interstates due to speed controlled and traffic flow management – car to car; auto insurance will be a relic as there will be no need; emergency rooms will be free of auto victims; ambulance chasers will be in the history books; taxi’s and uber will be defunct; chauffeur will take on a new meaning; parents will be more productive at work as the car pool will be conducted by the car; dui’s will be a thing of the past as will defense lawyers making a living from defending dui’s; MAD can take on a new cause; traffic courts will be goast towns….the list goes on; personally, I can’t wait! And, I put my money where my mouth is investing every spare nickel in Google! Count me in as a believer!

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