A new report issued by the Department of Motor Vehicles of California shows that Google’s self-driving cars are not yet safe enough to be left unmonitored.
The department approved seven companies to test prototype cars on public roads and then file a report marking significant events and reviews. As the reports have arrived back to the DMV, the agency has now vocalized its safety-related concerns as in several instances a human driver had to intervene to avoid accidents.
The prototypes, coming from several companies struggling to take their models on the market first, had different levels of performance.
According to experts, Google’s self-driving cars, which were the most tested until now, did quite ok in good weather. Other companies had bigger problems and humans had to take over the wheel for several times.
Nissan, who plans to have autonomous vehicles on the roads by 2020, tested 1,485 miles on public roads and a human driver had to take control over the car in 106 different instances.
Compared, Google’s cars tested over 424,000 miles and humans took control only 341 times. Given that American cars travel an annually average of 12,000 miles, it means that a person needs to intervene about ten times a year. In 11 of these instances Google cars would have crashed if they were on their own.
However, according to the leader of Google’s self-driving cars, Chris Urmson, all of the crashes would have been minor, non-life-threatening accidents so Google is satisfied with the results. But the company knows their technology can still be improved and this is exactly why the prototypes are equipped with pedals and steering wheel for testing.
In 272 of the cases the human took over when onboard software or sensors failed. Some of the problems included not-seeing traffic lights or committing traffic violations or yielding to pedestrians.
There were also some cases in which other drivers were being reckless and in some instances the autonomous cars were making unwanted maneuvers.
Google’s report shows that a driver has typically took control of the wheel within one second after the car asked for help. So at least for now a trained driver has to be in the car’s front seat.
However, it is very difficult to estimate if the regular cars drove by humans have a similar rate of incidents because an overwhelming majority of minor collisions remain unreported so not even the best data would be able to estimate the rates.
Image source: wikimedia
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