Google sees fewer hiccups in autonomous car tests, but driver intervention still needed

Google Self-Driving Car
Google’s autonomous cars continue to putter about the streets of California as the company tests the technology it hopes will one day transform the way we get from A to B.

So far the trials look to be going pretty well, with newly released data revealing a drop in the number of times a human driver has had to take over one of its self-driving cars while being tested on the streets.

A document filed recently with the California Department of Motor Vehicles revealed that in the 14-month period between September 2014 and November 2015, 49 of the Mountain View company’s self-driving cars experienced 341 disengagements while covering more than 424,000 miles. This means the vehicles’ on-board computers suddenly handed back control of the vehicle to the test driver, or the driver felt the need to intervene.

For 272 of the disengagements, reasons included unclear sensor data, issues with steering or braking, and problems with the car’s technology. For the other 69, the driver chose to take over after judging the car was about to perform an unexpected action or maneuver. Eighty-nine percent of all interventions took place on city streets, which makes sense considering the prevalence pedestrians, other vehicles, and intersections compared to out-of-town roads.

The results include both Google’s modified Lexus vehicles as well as its smaller so-called “koala” cars.

The number of miles driven per disengagement has risen sharply over the last year, Google’s report showed. For example, in the fourth quarter of 2015, its cars covered about 5,200 miles per disengagement, while in the same period a year earlier it was just 750 miles.

In a message posted on Tuesday, Chris Urmson, director of Google’s self-driving car program,  said his team was also using “many other metrics and methodologies that will be useful for establishing our safety record over time.”

These, he wrote, include a test track where it runs “tests that are designed to give us extra practice with rare or wacky situations.” Urmson continued, “Our powerful simulator generates thousands of virtual testing scenarios for us; it executes dozens of variations on situations we’ve encountered in the real world by adjusting parameters such as the position and speed of our vehicle and of other road users around us.”

This, he explained, helps his team to understand how its self-driving technology would’ve handled the same situation under slightly different circumstances, describing it as “valuable preparation for a public road environment in which fractions of seconds can be of critical importance.”

Urmson ended his post by acknowledging his team still has much to do, saying, “Although we’re not quite ready to declare that we’re safer than average human drivers on public roads, we’re happy to be making steady progress toward the day we can start inviting members of the public to use our cars.”


Waymo’s self-driving prototype obeys a traffic cop’s hand signals

One of Waymo's self-driving prototypes successfully navigated a situation that leaves even some human drivers confused: An intersection whose traffic lights are down. It waited for the traffic cop to wave it on.

Tesla will release fully self-driving cars in 2019 — with a big asterisk

Tesla reaffirmed its goal of releasing a fully self-driving car by the end of 2019, but it warned the system won't work perfectly 100 percent of the time. Convincing regulators that it's safe to use will require some effort, too.

Apple opens up about its self-driving car program in letter to NHTSA

Apple has traditionally kept details about its self-driving car technology under wraps, but it has revealed details about the program in a rare instance of openness. The company takes safety seriously.

Waymo rules and Apple trails in California self-driving car benchmarks

California's DMV releases annual reports of self-driving car disengagements on public roads. In the most recent reports. Waymo had the best performance, GM Cruise came in second, and Apple's self-driving program was in last place.

Watch a modified Audi e-tron electric SUV drive straight up a ski slope

A modified Audi e-tron climbed up an 85-percent gradient on an Austrian ski slope in a tribute to a classic Audi commercial. The vehicle used for the stunt sported an extra electric motor and spiked tires.

Mamma mia! Alfa Romeo will unveil a new model at the Geneva Auto Show

Alfa Romeo told Digital Trends it will unveil a new model at the 2019 Geneva Auto Show. It stopped short of revealing what it has in store, but rumors claim it will be a crossover positioned below the Stelvio.

Citroën says you could drive its tiny Ami One electric car without a license

Citroën's Ami One concept car is an electric vehicle that's as cute as it is compact. The miniature motor only has a top speed of 28 mph, so the French automaker imagines it as a shareable runaround for short drives.

Arizona city slammed with $10M lawsuit over fatal Uber autonomous car accident

The family of Elaine Herzberg, the woman struck and killed by one of Uber's self-driving prototypes, has filed a $10 million lawsuit against the city of Tempe, Arizona. They claim Herzberg jaywalked because she was confused by a brick…

Mercedes lets the sun shine in one last time with SLC Final Edition convertible

The Mercedes-Benz SLC convertible sports car is going out of production. Launched in 1996 as the SLK, the model has been a fixture in the Mercedes-Benz lineup across three generations.

Aston Martin’s next hypercar, due in 2021, will pack a hybrid powertrain punch

Aston Martin will follow up the Valkyrie and Valkyrie AMR Pro with a new hypercar, code-named Project 003. The car will debut in 2021, with production limited to 500 units worldwide.

Consumer Reports bumps the Tesla Model 3 off of its list of recommended models

The Tesla Model 3 is one of the six new cars that have lost their coveted Recommended rating from Consumer Reports over reliability concerns. In 2018, Model 3 owners reported body trim falling off and problems with the car's glass.

Lyft’s Shared Saver service offers cheaper rides, but you’ll have to walk a little

Lyft has launched a new ride option called Shared Saver that offers cheaper rides if you're willing to walk a little. Shared Saver designates a nearby pick-up point and drops you off a short distance from your final destination.

Has Apple rebooted its self-driving car program to develop autonomous vans?

The on-again, off-again Apple car is back on track, but it's not a sedan or a hatchback. It will arrive as an electric, autonomous passenger-carrying van, according to a recent report.

Kia is bringing a bionic-looking electric concept car to the Geneva Auto Show

Kia wants to hog the spotlight at the 2019 Geneva Auto Show by revealing a head-turning electric concept car. The yet-unnamed model reaffirms the brand's commitment to electrification, while taking design and performance to new levels.