Waymo just announced that it was granted permission to autonomously test vehicles in California. Though widely regarded as having the lead in self-driving, the Alphabet division still has accidents. However, the latest was the fault of the car’s safety driver.
While driving in Mountain View last month, a Waymo safety driver took control to avoid a passenger car heading into the self-driving vehicle’s lane. While moving into the right lane avoided that particular accident, it resulted in the autonomous car’s right rear bumper coming into contact with a motorcyclist. The human driver behind the wheel responsible for “responding to fast-moving scenarios on the road” did not spot the motorcycle
While driving on El Camino Real in Mountain View, our test driver took control of the vehicle after seeing a passenger car to the left abruptly move towards our vehicle’s lane. Our driver responded by quickly moving the vehicle into the right lane. Unfortunately, our driver did not see that a motorcyclist had just moved from behind our vehicle into the right lane to pass us. As a result, our vehicle’s rear right bumper came into contact with the motorcycle.
Waymo reported the incident to the California DMV, with the rider of the motorcycle suffering an unspecified injury. Waymo CEO John Krafcik today apologized for the accident, but also highlighted how the company’s technology could have avoided the accident.
Testing on public roads is vital to the safe development of self-driving technology, and we’re sorry that a member of the community was injured in a collision with one of our cars. We recognize the impact this can have on community trust. We hold ourselves to the highest standard, and we are always working to improve and refine our testing program.
The Chrysler Pacifica “would have avoided the collision by taking a safer course of action” if the safety driver did not take manual control. Specifically, it would have just slowed down, having spotted the movement of the motorcycle behind it.
While our test driver’s focus was on the car ahead, our self-driving system was simultaneously tracking the position, direction and speed of every object around it. Crucially, our technology correctly anticipated and predicted the future behavior of both the merging vehicle and the motorcyclist. Our simulation shows the self-driving system would have responded to the passenger car by reducing our vehicle’s speed, and nudging slightly in our own lane, avoiding a collision.