How safe a driver is your average robot? Safer than your average American, at least by one measure.
Google announced Tuesday that its self-driving cars have completed 300,000 miles of test-drives, under a “wide range of conditions,” all without any kind of accident. (The project has seen a few accidents in the past — but only with humans at the wheel.)
To put that into perspective, the average U.S. driver has one accident roughly every 165,000 miles. Here’s how we got that figure: our average mileage per year is 16,550, according to the Federal Highway Administration; the average length of time we go between traffic accidents is 10 years, according to Allstate. (In particularly safe cities such as Fort Collins, Colo., that number can rise to 14 years — which is still no match for Google’s 300,000 miles.)
The Google project uses Toyota Priuses equipped with a range of cameras, radar sensors and laser range-finders to see other traffic; sophisticated software uses Google Maps to navigate routes. A pair of human drivers are always in the cars, ready to take over in case of any malfunction, although Google says it will now start using just one human per car. The company also just added a Lexus RX450h to its Prius fleet (see picture above).
In the past, the project says its robot cars have driven from the Googleplex in Silicon Valley to Santa Monica in LA, gone “down [San Francisco's famously twisty] Lombard Street, crossed the Golden Gate bridge, navigated the Pacific Coast Highway, and even made it all the way around Lake Tahoe” — and that was all announced two years ago.
So Google has good reason to be proud; it is bringing us closer to the day when we’ll be able to sit back, relax and do the crossword during our commute. But the company also admits it has a long way to go.
“To provide the best experience we can, we’ll need to master snow-covered roadways, interpret temporary construction signals and handle other tricky situations that many drivers encounter,” writes Chris Urmson, the driverless car team’s Engineering Lead, in a blog post. “For now, our team members will remain in the driver’s seats and will take back control if needed.”