Google may be one of the most disruptive companies on the planet, but while it is an exceptionally innovative company, how far is it going in mapping out our lives? Robotic cars, or self-drive cars, have been big news due to their technological advancement, however, what is their safety record? It has come as something of a shock that Google’s self-driving cars have been involved in 11 car accidents during their testing in California, Florida, Michigan and Nevada.
So just how reliable are these self-driving cars?
The problem is that given the rate of tests and the incidence of accidents, these vehicles do not have anywhere the same reliability as a used car, even a Model T Ford!
Taking the human driver out of the driving seat may be a great innovation – I know personally, that getting on my daily commute, and especially those long holiday drives to family out of state, I’d love to be able to kick back and watch a movie or spend time with my family. However, there is no way I would want to do that if it meant my family or myself was put in harm’s way – I mean, do read the paper while you’re driving today?
We are a long way from robotic cars driving us around, and the issues are far more than can the car be driven without you or I at the wheel.
Let’s take a look at the facts.
Google already shares a pile of information with the government, such as location, Internet searches, and let’s not get side bared with all the advertising going on.
Then, there is the issue of software security. Robotic vehicles are controlled by software, and this raises the question of how reliable is the program which is controlling the vehicle. Even with many current vehicles on the road today, they are loaded with software, and the news is that Google’s robot cars have been experiencing some glitches in the system, leading to several incidents during the testing phase.
In California, Google reported 3 collisions involving their self-driving cars (due to a CA law which requires a collision incident report requirement for road testing).
Is this as bad as it sounds?
Let’s take a look at the facts.
Google’s self-drive cars have driven over one million miles since 2009, and 11 accidents have been reported during the testing. In Google’s defense, their spokesman, Chris Urmson denied that any of the incidents were due to the robotic cars’ fault, and more than this, the incidents resulted only in light damage and zero injuries.
The problem is probably more one of a big corporation not reporting issues fairly and openly.
The only reason this record of incidents was reported was because of the mandatory California reporting law. While the number of incidents had to be reported, the details of what actually transpired cannot be reported by the appropriate Motor Vehicle Departments due to privacy restrictions. That leaves Google as the sole reporting entity that can give the whole story, however, they have been less than forthcoming in this respect.
The principal reason appears to be to gain political credence for the idea of self-drive technology, before the incident reports must be made publically available. This is a serious mistake for several reasons, not least public safety and credibility.
Robotic cars are part of our future: if not now, then at some time in our lifetimes, but the issue is when they are common place, will they be safe? Unless drivers and their passengers are sure of their safety, there is going to be an uphill struggle to have them gain acceptance in our eyes, and become a common sight on our roads.
Google is well advised to learn a lesson about being transparent and open about how its vehicles are performing. If the incidents in which their vehicles are involved are slight, not the fault of the robotic vehicles and resulted in no human injuries or casualties, then this is something that should be shared openly, and not brushed under the carpet.
Daniel Adcock is a car fanatic and writes on car and auto developments while running HiLo Auto Sales in Frederick MD.