Google’s self-driving cars have been in accidents before, but the company argues that the accidents have never been the fault of the car and, rather, other drivers have been at fault. It has, until now, also said that nobody in Google’s autonomous cars have been injured in an accident. Minor injuries were reported recently and, in a new report from the head of Google’s self-driving car program, we learn that these small accidents are good for Google’s learning.
“Our self-driving cars are being hit surprisingly often by other drivers who are distracted and not paying attention to the road,” head of Google’s driverless car program Chris Urmson said recently. “That’s a big motivator for us. The most recent collision, during the evening rush hour on July 1, is a perfect example. One of our Lexus vehicles was driving autonomously towards an intersection in Mountain View, CA. The light was green, but traffic was backed up on the far side, so three cars, including ours, braked and came to a stop so as not to get stuck in the middle of the intersection. After we’d stopped, a car slammed into the back of us at 17 mph — and it hadn’t braked at all.”
You can see a simulation of the accident in the video above. Unfortunately, it resulted in the first injuries reported in Google’s self driving car, where employees experienced “minor whiplash.” Urmson said there’s a silver lining to the accident, though: that the other driver was probably distracted enough to slam into the Google car at 17mph. Google’s cars, Urmson says, are never distracted.