According to an accident report filed by Google with the California Department of Motor Vehicles, one of Google’s self-driving Lexus RX450h SUVs reportedly met with an accident on the 1st of this month in Mountain View, CA when the vehicle was rear-ended as it stopped at an intersection behind two other automobiles. While the Google SUV, driving in autonomous mode, had decelerated from 15 mph to come to a standstill, the driver in the vehicle behind it failed to apply its brakes and ended up ramming into the Lexus hybrid at 17 mph. Occupants of both vehicles complained of some discomfort including pain in their necks and lower backs, and were taken to a nearby hospital, where they were discharged on the same day after having received treatment for minor whiplash.
While this was not the first time one of these vehicles were involved in a collision of some description, most of the previously reported incidents were minor fender-benders with no injuries reported. This was the very first time an accident involving a self-driving vehicle had resulted in an injury, however minor. Reports say that while police did respond to the situation, they did not feel the incident was grave enough to warrant an accident report. This is said to be the 14th time one of Google’s self-driving cars have got into an accident since 2009, when Google first started testing the driverless vehicles, which have by now, racked up almost two million miles of autonomous travel. 11 out of these accidents have been the result of traditional, manually-driven vehicles rear-ending Google’s cars.
Google meanwhile has issued a statement denying any culpability in any of the accidents. The head of Google’s autonomous vehicles project, Mr. Chris Urmson, expressed his surprise at how often the driverless cars are being rear-ended by other drivers. Writing about the incident on his blog on Thursday, Mr. Urmson noted, “The clear theme is human error and inattention. We’ll take all this as a signal that we’re starting to compare favorably with human drivers”. He also revealed that his team was trying to find ways of alerting onrushing drivers of impending collisions, but didn’t feel honking would be a good idea, as that could affect the serenity of residential neighborhoods and end up alienating citizens.
Even by Google’s already elevated standards, its self-driving vehicles seemed straight out of the pages of science fiction when the company started its research on the project in the middle of the last decade. While autonomous cars have since become a reality, Google and other companies like Delphi etc. who’ve dived headlong into similar projects, are still looking to iron out the rough edges before such driverless vehicles can actually hit primetime. Having said that though, we’re much closer today than ever to such cars being launched commercially. While Google started out by retro-fitting commercially available vehicles with cameras and on-board sensors, its very own prototypes are now plying on the streets of California after having received the green signal from relevant authorities in multiple states. Google is said to be mulling a commercial launch by the end of this decade for mainstream public consumption.