U.S. transportation secretary Anthony Foxx is still supportive of Google's autonomous car initiative, but also admitted that "it's not a surprise that at some point there would be a crash of any technology that's on the road."
His statement came one month after the first-ever car wreck involving a self-driving Google car in February 2016, which managed to hit a bus, but luckily left all passengers in the vehicles injury-free.
At the same time, Foxx emphasized that it's unfair to pit a work-in-progress like Google's autonomous car, "against perfection."
"I would challenge one to look at the number of crashes that occurred on the same day that were the result of human behavior," he said, followed by, "I think it's a relative comparison to what we have now on the roads which is you and I, and our eyeballs, and our brains."
The crash itself was also another first for Google regarding culpability. As Foxx invoked in an interview with BBC on Monday, March 14, the company admitted that Google was at least partially to blame for the wreck, and cited its own faulty software and on-board computer, which it plans on remedying as soon as possible.
Here's a rough breakdown of what happened from Google's Chris Urmson, who explained how the crash came to be at this year's South by Southwest festival:
"Urmson explained that the company had taught its cars to move next to the curb when planning a right turn, sidling by traffic stopped at a traffic light, much as human drivers do. As the car proceeded along the curb, it sensed a few sandbags on the road ahead of it, so decided to stop and wait for the lane next to it to clear. [...] After the light turned green, the traffic began moving. The car detected a city bus coming up the lane, and made the assumption the bus driver would slow down. As Urmson told it, the bus driver assumed the car would stay put, and kept on going. The car pulled out, hitting the side of the bus at about 2 mph."
Foxx, who was also in attendance and spoke at SXSW, revealed that cities like Austin, Columbus, Denver, Kansas City, Pittsburgh, Portland and San Francisco — all of which are competing in a self-driving car competition for a $40 million grant the government is willing to dole out to help "smart" tech businesses — have reached the final stages of the contest. He also made sure to equate these driverless-car experiences and tests to just that: experiences and tests.
Foxx also pointed out that error is also a major factor in all of this, and that it happens at a more frequent rate when humans are behind the wheel.
"Driverless technology presents a lot of potential for disruption on a number of fronts," Fox stated, suggesting his overall sense of caution and realistic expectations concerning the project.
As for how Google and the autonomous driving industry will move forward, or how humans will find appeal in self-driving vehicles?
"It's unclear to me now exactly how that future unfolds," Foxx concluded.
Check out U.S. Secretary of Transportation Anthony Foxx talk about the future of self-driving cars in the video clip below.
Photo: Travis Wise | Flickr