Google admits blame in self-driving car crash

Crash, but not quite boom and bang yet: Google needs to refine its autonomous vehicle programme before it can roll out the technology for consumers

Self-driving cars may be some way away after Google took the blame for a Valentine’s Day crash in California.

The technology giant said yesterday that it bears “some responsibility” after a self-driving car hit a municipal bus on February 14 in Mountain View, where Google has its headquarters. According to Reuters, the Lexus RX450h was aiming to avoid some sandbags in a wide lane, the company said in a statement filed with California regulators on February 23.

No injuries

No one was injured in the car or the bus. Google said it made changes to its software after the crash to avoid future incidents.

The autonomous vehicle was reportedly travelling at less than 2 miles per hour, while the bus was moving at about 15 miles per hour. The vehicle and the test driver “believed the bus would slow or allow the Google (autonomous vehicle) to continue,” the company said in the filing. However, three seconds later, as the Google car in autonomous mode re-entered the centre of the lane, it struck the side of the bus, causing damage to the left front fender, front wheel and a driver side sensor.

“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,” Google said in a statement released this week.

Meanwhile, advocacy groups said the incident was evidence that much more needs to be done before autonomous cars can be put to widespread use by consumers. John M. Simpson, privacy project director for advocacy group Consumer Watchdog, said the crash “is more proof that robot car technology is not ready for auto pilot.”

Jerry Kaplan, a serial technology entrepreneur and author of a recent book on robotics, told the UK’s Financial Times newspaper: “There are all sorts of social clues that people abide by that are hard to program into a car.

“There was nothing terrible about this, no one got hurt or killed. But it will be a long time before the cars can be driven in heavily used streets and abide by the same social conventions people use.”

Google has previously said that its autonomous vehicles have never been at fault in any crashes.