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Why Google’s self-driving cars might not be as safe as you think

by Todd Haselton | January 14, 2016January 14, 2016 12:00 pm PDT

Google’s self-driving cars might not be as safe as you think. Sure, the company has released reports stating that the vehicles have never been at fault in an accident, and they certainly seem safe right now – but maybe they aren’t quite ready for us to put our full trust into just yet. Take a look at this excerpt from The Wall Street Journal, for example:

Google filed a report with the state of California on Tuesday that outlined 272 occurrences during a 14-month period where the software on its vehicles detected a problem that required an immediate handover to the human test driver. Of those, Google analyzed that if a human hadn’t taken over, there likely would have been 13 “contacts” with other vehicles or objects.

That’s kind of shocking, especially since Google was so upset with the State of California for proposing that an autonomous vehicle still require a licensed driver behind the wheel. The firm argued such a requirement wouldn’t be valuable to folks who might really need an autonomous vehicle, like someone who is blind, for example. These figures seem to suggest that it’s actually a good thing a blind person wasn’t behind the wheel, and that someone who is licensed should be ready to take over in case the car fails.

There’s still some good news, though. Google has made a ton of progress in that 14-month time period and, according to The Wall Street Journal, the need for a disengagement is now about once every 5,318 miles. That’s more than the distance across the United States.


Todd Haselton

Todd Haselton has been writing professionally since 2006 during his undergraduate days at Lehigh University. He started out as an intern with...

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