Google's self-driving cars have been in accidents before, but always on the receiving end... at least, until now. The company has filed a California DMV accident report (PDF) confirming that one of its autonomous vehicles (a Lexus RX450h) collided with a bus in Mountain View. The crash happened when the robotic SUV had to go into the center lane to make a right turn around some sand bags – both the vehicle and its test driver incorrectly assumed that a bus approaching from behind would slow or stop to let the car through. The Lexus smacked into the side of the bus at low speed, damaging its front fender, wheel and sensor in the process.
This was a minor incident, and we're happy to report that there were no injuries. However, this might be the first instance where one of Google's self-driving cars caused an accident. If so, the Mountain View crew can no longer say it's an innocent dove on the roads -- while this wasn't a glitch, its software made a decision that led to a crash. We've reached out to Google to see if it can elaborate on what happened.
No matter what the response, it was always going to be difficult to avoid this kind of incident. Until self-driving cars can anticipate every possible road hazard, there's always a chance that they'll either be confused or make choices with unexpected (and sometimes unfortunate) consequences. However, the hope at this early stage isn't to achieve a flawless track record. Instead, it's to show that self-driving cars can be safer overall than their human-piloted counterparts.
This article by Jon Fingas originally ran on Engadget, the definitive guide to this connected life.