Following demands from consumer advocacy groups (such as the long-term critic Consumer Watchdog) for more transparency, the tech giant Google announced it will publish monthly traffic accident reports on the new website dedicated to its driverless cars.
Launched on Friday, the website provides a general overview of the “robocar” program, demonstrating how these cutting-edge vehicles behave in daily traffic, and is also scheduled to list any related accidents without revealing the identity of the human drivers who are required by law to ride along in the cars.
“We don’t claim that the cars are going to be perfect. Our goal is to beat human drivers,” said company co-founder Sergey Brin, who opposed the move during a shareholder meeting on Wednesday. “Nothing can be a perfect vehicle. I just wanted to set that expectation.”
The first report for May 2015 is up and available to view in PDF format. Interestingly enough, it covers not just May, but actually stretches back all the way to the project’s beginnings in 2009.
In total, the so-called self-driving cars have logged a combined 1.8 million miles of autonomous and manual driving and have been involved in only 13 minor accidents – the last of which took place on Thursday last week.
“We’ve made a lot of progress with our self-driving technology over the past six years, and we’re still learning,” states Google. “Every day we head out onto public streets so we can keep challenging and refining our software.”
The company claims that every single one of these incidents was due to a mistake on the part of the other driver. As Chris Urmson, leader of the “robocar” project, explained, the majority of the accidents were no more serious than a regular fender-bender.
“Rear-end crashes are the most frequent accidents in America, and often there’s little the driver in front can do to avoid getting hit. We’ve been hit from behind seven times, mainly at traffic lights but also on the freeway.”
The monthly report for May also details how the cars are overly cautious and able to predict and avoid accidents that humans can’t. For example, the cars have been shown to be extremely well aware of cyclists – a feature that could go a long way towards ameliorating the long-running hostility between car and bicycle drivers.
Google plans to end the first prototype testing phase this summer and let its cars loose on the public roadways of the company’s hometown of Mountain View, California.
While driverless cars are quite the rarity today, they seem an almost inevitable next wave of technology that all of us are going to reckon with. Several major car manufacturers are already experimenting with autonomous vehicles, and many standard-issue models are now equipped with robotic skills including lane control and collision control and the ability to parallel-park themselves.