Laura K. Cowan

UPDATE: Was Google's Driverless Car Crash Really Due To Human Error?

by , 08/12/11

Google driverless car crash, Google Prius accident, self-driving car crash, Jalopnik Google Prius crash photo, self-driving car, driverless car, green transportation, alternative transportation

We have been bringing you lots of news lately on the developments in driverless cars from companies such as Google, Porsche, or even new competitors in China. So we were a little nervous for Google when we heard one of their Priuses had gotten itself into an accident. Google is claiming the crash was caused by the driverless fleet car when a human was manually driving it, but some new details have surfaced that make us question that statement. The story broke when a Jalopnik reader sent in a photo of the accident not far from Google’s Mountain View headquarters, but the picture, showing a Google Prius driver leaning over his car, the driver of the Prius rear-ended by the Google car on her cell phone, and a police officer, didn’t seem to tell the whole story. “Safety is our top priority. One of our goals is to prevent fender-benders like this one, which occurred while a person was manually driving the car,” said Google of the accident. But does that ring true?

Google driverless car crash, Google Prius accident, self-driving car crash, Jalopnik Google Prius crash photo, self-driving car, driverless car, green transportation, alternative transportation

What the photo didn’t show was that not one but four cars were damaged by the Google Prius. A five-car accident might be described as a bit more than a fender bender, and according to NBC San Francisco, an eye witness described the accident this way: “Google’s Prius struck another Prius, which then struck her Honda Accord that her brother was driving. That Accord then struck another Honda Accord, and the second Accord hit a separate, non-Google-owned Prius.” The Google Prius must have been driving pretty quickly to cause that kind of chain reaction. That sounds to us like automated driving, which navigates traffic obstacles much more quickly than a human would. What do you think? Was the car at fault or the driver? And will driverless cars need black boxes to record driving data so the law knows when to hold a driver accountable and when to recall a vehicle for glitches? We’re wondering if the driver stepped in to prevent an accident and ended up causing one instead due to his laggy human 500-milisecond reaction time. Maybe Google should slow down that famed reaction time of their robo-drivers if they want to avoid more bad press like this that could prevent them from achieving driverless world domination.

Photo courtesy of Jalopnik

+ Google

Via Singularity Hub and Jalopnik

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4 Comments

  1. Jacob_Gordon August 14, 2011 at 12:22 pm

    I took a pic of the scene showing the ambulance that arrived:
    https://twitter.com/#!/jacob_gordon/status/102776699657265152/photo/1

  2. tvjames August 13, 2011 at 12:28 am

    Planes have crashed, space shuttles have crashed, elevators have failed. Axles have broken on horse-drawn carriages. Computers have eaten files and prominent blogs have erroneously reported false information. These days it seems like we have to get it absolutely perfect. While we’d hope that Google would take measures to protect human life, every accident is an opportunity to learn. I commend Google for investing in this kind of research and for not slapping a “beta” bumper sticker on it and selling these current models to the general public.

    I’m a little disappointed by this article, I thought it had new information but this is purely speculation.

  3. tkbrdly August 12, 2011 at 4:14 pm

    When I first saw the original article I thought the google employee was taking the blame so that the driverless car project wouldn’t get canned. A cover up is going to be much worse for google.

  4. lazyreader August 12, 2011 at 9:11 am

    Even if the accident was a result of a glitch, glitches are inevitable with prototypes. No one is saying this car is going to be available on the market, it’s a technology demonstrator. How many hours have these self-driving cars logged without an accident. Probably thousands, it illustrates the overall safety of the technology. One accident out of thousands of hours and miles of unattended driving, it’s a safety record on par with the airline industry if not better. All I know is when a car stops working it doesn’t fall out of the sky.

    Computers have faster reaction time than people as they don’t rely on judgment or bias to make crucial decisions just sensory input. Driverless cars do not drink alcohol or drive while under the influence of it. They don’t text while driving and don’t get tired or bored as a result of highway hypnosis. No one is saying this very car is gonna be available or sold on the market. This is merely a prototype and technology demonstrator. So if it would make buyers reluctant to buy first generation just like the first generation iPod when the second / third generation was smaller and more convenient.

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