It was bound to happen eventually: one of Google’s self-driving cars has gotten into a minor accident – and, for once, it was while the AI was in control.
Google’s cars have actually gotten into a dozen-plus fender benders over the years.. but in the previous cases, the government-mandated human driver was actually the one controlling the vehicle when the accidents occured.
In this case (DMV report here), Google says it outright: yep, the vehicle was in autonomous mode.
Here’s what happened, straight from the DMV report:
A Google Lexus-model autonomous vehicle (“Google AV”) was traveling in autonomous mode eastbound on El Camino Real in Mountain View in the far right-hand land approaching the Castro St. intersection. As the Google AV approached the intersection, it signaled its intent to make a right turn on red onto Castro St. The Google AV then moved to the right-hand side of the lane to pass traffic in the same lane that was stopped at the intersection and proceeding straight. However, the Google AV had to come to a stop and go around sandbags positioned around a storm drain that were blocking its path. When the light turned green, traffic in the lane continued past the Google AV. After a few cars had passed, the Google AV began to proceed back into the center lane to pass the sand bags. A public transit bus was approaching from behind. The Google AV test driver saw the bus approaching in the left side mirror but believed the bus would stop or slow to allow the Google AV to continue. Approximately three seconds later, as the Google AV was reentering the center of the lane it made contact with the side of the bus. The Google AV was operating in autonomous mode and traveling at less than 2 mph, and the bus was travelling at about 15 mph at the time of contact.
The Google AV sustained bus damage to the left front fender, the left front wheel and one of its driver’s-side sensors. There were no injuries reported at the scene.
tl;dr: Google Car tried to zip around some stopped cars, had to stop because of some sandbags in the road, tried to merge back into the other lane to get around them, and it hit the side of a passing bus which it assumed would slow to let it merge back in to the lane.. No injuries.
It’s a weird fringe case, but it’s exactly these fringe cases that makes building self-driving cars so damned hard. Hell, the accident was one any human could’ve gotten into — that is unless you’ve been driving in the Bay Area for a few years and have lost all faith that the buses here will slow down for you.