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article imageGoogle scrambles to figure out why self-driving car struck bus

By Nathan Salant     Mar 2, 2016 in Technology
Mountain View - Google rushed teams of software engineers to downtown Mountain View on Valentine's Day to figure out why one of the company's self-driving cars struck a public bus.
The car, one of 22 specially equipped Lexus SUVs being tested in the area around Google headquarters and in Austin, Tex., struck a public bus at the intersection of two of Mountain View's busiest streets in the afternoon of Feb. 14, in what is apparently the first accident involving a self-driving car in which the vehicle was at least partly at fault.
Google has been testing the sensor and camera-equipped SUVs on public roads since 2014, according to the Associated Press.
The tech giant reported the accident to the California DMV as required under its testing agreement with the state.
That agreement requires each car have a human operator to take control of the vehicle if necessary, but the operator did not feel the need to intervene. There were no injuries.
"We saw the bus, we tracked the bus, we thought the bus was going to slow down, we started to pull out, there was some momentum involved," Chris Urmson, head of Google's self-driving car project, told the AP.
Urmson said Google's car did have some responsibility for the crash at the corner of El Camino Real and Castro Street, but it was "not black and white."
The low-speed fender-bender occurred when the car moved slightly to the left to get around a hazard in the right-turn lane it was in.
The Mountain View bus, which was carrying 15 passengers, did not slow or move over to accommodate the change and the vehicles struck each other.
Google said the test driver assumed the bus would yield to allow the SUV to move around the right-lane hazard but it did not.
The DMV report did not address fault and the Santa Clara Valley Transportation Authority said it was investigating the accident.
"No determination of liability has been made," an authority spokeswoman said in a written statement, the AP said.
But Google quickly acknowledged in a written statement that it bore at least partial responsibility for the crash.
"We clearly bear some responsibility, because if our car hadn't moved there wouldn't have been a collision," Google's statement said.
Google said its engineers were changing the car's software so it would be able to anticipate that buses might not yield as reliably as other cars might, and called the crash "a classic example of the negotiation that's a normal part of driving."
"We're all trying to predict each other's movements," Google said.
But a noted critic of Google's self-driving car project said the crash demonstrated why such vehicles should not be allowed on public roads. the AP said.
"Clearly, Google's robot cars can't reliably cope with everyday driving situations," said John M. Simpson of the nonprofit Consumer Watchdog.
"There needs to be a licensed driver who can take over, even if in this case the test driver failed to step in as he should have," he said.
Google has been pressuring state and federal authorities to legalize the use of computer-operated vehicles, even when people have limited ways of intervening, the AP said.
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