Google’s self-driving cars have been making the news of late, and the news tends to be positive. People are excited at the prospect of being able to buy cars that can be chalked up as personal drivers. Unfortunately, the good news comes with a bit of bad. According to reports, the self-driving cars were test driven in California between September 2014 and November 2015. Test drivers had to disengage the computer controls a total of 341 times.
Disengaging the computer essentially means that the human took over. In 272 cases, the computer system failed in one way or another and gave control to the human on its own. Google’s cars are able to do this by alerting the human driver with audio and visual signals. Google wants the public to know that they set the limits at which the computer hands over control of the car very conservatively. This is done so that the company can gather data and improve the cars. Even minor abnormalities in sensor readings can cause the computer to give up control.
Other disengagements by the cars were not so readily downplayed by Google. In 69 cases, it was the driver who decided to grab the wheel and take over. The company says that humans may have decided to resume control due to decisions “relating to comfort” or poor driving from other vehicles on the road. Because Google takes data from each of these disengagements, they were able to determine that 13 of them could have resulted in the car coming into contact with another object had the human not taken over.
The total number of disengagements occurred over more than 400,000 miles of driving. This is approximately as many miles as a typical driver would cover in two to four years. As the company has made improvements to its fleet, the miles driven per disengagement have been on the rise. During initial testing, disengagement occurred