For Google, Feb. 14 is more than just Valentine's Day, as it also marks the first accident that one of the autonomous vehicles (AV) of the company caused.
The accident involves a public transit bus and a self-driving Lexus RX450h SUV, and it occurred on El Camino Real near Google's hometown of Mountain View, California.
The Google AV was driving in the far right side of the three-lane boulevard, preparing to take a right turn onto Castro Street. However, it couldn't smoothly do so because of sandbags that surrounded a storm drain, and it had to move to the center to make the turn.
The Lexus did let a couple of cars pass before it proceeded to maneuver around the obstruction, but a bus approaching at 15 mph was right behind it. According to the accident report, the bus was visible in the left mirror. It then collided with the bus, incurring damage on its front-left fender, wheel and sensor.
"A public transit bus was approaching from behind. The Google AV test driver saw the bus approaching in the left side mirror, but believed the bus would stop or slow to allow the Google AV to continue. Approximately three seconds later, as the Google AV was reentering the center of the lane, it made contact with the side of the bus," the report says (PDF).
A test driver was occupying the Google AV at the time, but the car was set in autonomous mode. Fortunately, the accident did not cause any injury.
Placed in the same situation that drivers face every day, the Google AV predicted that the bus would allow it to pass first, as it's positioned ahead of the incoming vehicle. The occupant also thought the same. Apparently, they were both wrong.
Google says the company itself and the AV in question are at fault to a certain degree, making this the first case under that condition.
"We clearly bear some responsibility, because if our car hadn't moved, there wouldn't have been a collision," Google tells Reuters.
This incident will no doubt provide groups against self-driving cars with fuel to fire their sides. Particularly speaking, Consumer Watchdog already issued a statement on Monday saying that the technology needs to be under stricter standards.
"This accident is more proof that robot car technology is not ready for auto pilot and a human driver needs to be able to take over when something goes wrong. The police should be called to the site of every robot car crash and all technical data and video associated with the accident must be made public," John Simpson, project director of the group, says.
This isn't the first time Google had to file an accident report to the California Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV), as it already submitted 17 reports in a span of six years. However, the company was not to blame in those incidents.
The fleet deployed on California roads consists of 23 steering wheel-free Lexus RX450h SUVs, and it has clocked in a total of approximately 1 million miles. In light of the accident, Google is dedicated to learn from the mistake and improve the technology crammed in the company's self-driving cars.