Google co-founder Sergey Brin reveals that one its self-driving cars was rear-ended in the past week, taking the total number of accidents to 12
Google has increased the number of accidents its self-driving cars have been involved in, as its co-founder defended the hi-tech programme.
Sergey Brin told shareholders on Wednesday that one of its automated vehicles had been rear-ended in the past week, taking the total number involved in collisions since their launch six years ago to 12.
Mr Brin said he would not release reports of the crashes to protect those involved, but said that "seven or eight times we were rear-ended”, while on another occasion a human driving one of the test vehicles rear-ended another car.
“Our greatest learning is that people don’t pay attention, even trained drivers.” he said. “The other three were situations where the car was not driving itself, we were at a stop light or we were sideswiped.
"I’m very proud of the record of our cars. We don’t claim to be perfect, our goal is to beat human drivers.”
In a letter released on Wednesday, Mr Brin added: "We hope to make roadways far safer and transportation far more affordable and accessible to those who can’t drive.”
Last month Google revealed its vehicles had been involved in 11 accidents in the past six years.
The company released that information after The Associated Press reported that Google had notified California of three collisions involving its self-driving cars since September, when reporting all accidents became a legal requirement as part of the permits for the tests on public roads.
Chris Urmson, the head of Google's self-driving car project, wrote in an online post that all the accidents have been minor – "light damage, no injuries" – and happened over 1.7m miles in which either the car or a person required to be behind the wheel was driving.
"Not once was the self-driving car the cause of the accident," he wrote.
Like Delphi Automotive, a parts supplier that suffered an accident in October with one of its two test cars, Google said it was not at fault in the incidents.
John Simpson, privacy project director of the non-profit Consumer Watchdog, notes that Google's ultimate goal is a car without a steering wheel or pedals. This could prevent a person from taking over if a car loses control, making it "even more important that the details of any accidents be made public — so people know what the heck's going on".
Delphi's accident report showed that the front of its 2014 Audi SQ5 was moderately damaged when it was hit by another car while waiting to make a left turn. Delphi's car was not in self-driving mode at the time, Delphi spokeswoman Kristen Kinley said.
Five other companies with testing permits told AP they had no accidents. In all, 48 cars are licensed to test on state roads.
Nevada, Michigan and Florida have passed laws welcoming tests of self-driving cars onto their roads. Their regulators told AP they weren't aware of any accident reports.
California's regulators provided the total — four accidents since September — but would not comment about their nature or severity, citing a longstanding state law making collision reports confidential.
Some details, however, were revealed to AP by a person familiar with these reports: Two of the accidents happened while the cars were in self-driving mode. In the other two, the person required to be behind the wheel was in control.
All four happened when the test car was moving at speeds of less than 10mph, said the person, who spoke on condition of anonymity due to lack of authorisation to discuss the reports publicly.
A chief selling point for self-driving cars is safety.
Their cameras, radar and laser sensors provide a far more detailed understanding of their surroundings than humans have. Reaction times should be faster. Cars could be programmed to adjust if they sense a crash coming — move a few feet, tighten seat belts, honk the horn or flash lights at a distracted driver.
The top priority so far is not avoiding fender benders, but teaching them to avoid causing a serious accident that could set back acceptance of the technology for years, said Raj Rajkumar, a pioneer of the technology with Carnegie Mellon University.
The national rate for reported "property-damage-only crashes" is about 0.3 per 100,000 miles driven, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.
Google's 11 accidents over 1.7m miles would work out to 0.6 per 100,000, but as company officials noted, as many as 5m minor accidents are not reported to authorities each year, so it is hard to gauge how typical this is.