Video Depicts Shortcomings Of Google Robot Car Technology

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SANTA MONICA, CA – Consumer Watchdog today called on Google to disclose the details of 11 crashes it has acknowledged its self-driving vehicles were involved in and released a video showing shortcomings of driverless car technology.

“Google has admitted to 11 crashes involving its robot cars, but refuses to reveal the details,” said John M. Simpson, Consumer Watchdog’s Privacy Project director. “Google is using our roads as a test track and the public has a right to know when things go wrong.”

View Consumer Watchdog’s video about the safety and privacy concerns with driverless cars here:

Google’s driverless cars have been involved in crashes at about twice the rate reported by American drivers.  Google says its cars have driven 1.7 million miles and been involved in 11 accidents, or 0.65 accidents per 100,000 miles driven. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration reports 0.3 property damage accidents per 100,000 miles driven in 2013.

Consumer Watchdog learned that driverless car crash reports had been filed with the California Department of Motor Vehicles through a Public Records Act request filed in March.  The DMV said the reports were confidential and would not release them. Last week Consumer Watchdog sent a letter to Google’s executives asking the company to release the reports.  After an Associated Press news article Monday about the crashes, Google acknowledged that there had been 11, but still refused to release the details publicly.

Consumer Watchdog called on the DMV to require that human drivers have the ability to take over control of the robot cars if necessary. Google has announced plans for a robot car with no steering wheel, brake pedal, or accelerator.

“Driverless car technology is evolving and there are many situations Google’s robot cars cannot deal with.  People need to know that,” said Simpson.

The video uses animation to visualize shortcomings in driverless car technology, including:

— Weather.  Heavy precipitation interferes with the vehicle’s sensors and they don’t work in the snow, nor in heavy rain.

— Human hand signals. The robot cars can’t interact reliably with hand signals given by the human driver of another vehicle, or a policeman using only hand signals to direct traffic.

— Sunshine. If the sun is behind a traffic light, it can interfere with the driverless car’s ability to determine the traffic light’s color.

— Changing road conditions. The sensors don’t recognize large potholes and would not detect an open manhole.  If a traffic light were installed overnight as in the case of a road construction site, the car’s driverless navigation system would not expect it.  

— Pre-mapped roads. Google’s robot cars rely on detailed sensor mapping of routes before the robot car hits the road. If a Google driverless car tried a route that had not been specially mapped, probably even a large parking lot, it wouldn’t know what to do.

“There are just too many variables on the actual roads. If it’s not on the map, the robot car might not see it,” said Consumer Watchdog president Jamie Court in the video.

Google’s driverless car also threatens consumer privacy, said Consumer Watchdog. The vehicles will collect massive amounts of data about where we go, what we do, and the people around us, yet no rules prevent Google or other corporations from using that information for purposes other than driving the car.

The DMV is drafting regulations that would govern the public use of driverless cars.

Read Consumer Watchdog’s letter to the DMV calling for safety and privacy standards for driverless cars:

Read Consumer Watchdog’s letter to Google executives calling on them to reveal the crash details:



John M. Simpson
John M. Simpson
John M. Simpson is an American consumer rights advocate and former journalist. Since 2005, he has worked for Consumer Watchdog, a nonpartisan nonprofit public interest group, as the lead researcher on Inside Google, the group's effort to educate the public about Google's dominance over the internet and the need for greater online privacy.

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