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Google Robot Car Bears 'Some Responsibility' in California Accident

Google says it bears “some responsibility” for a low-speed accident in which one of its self-guided cars nicked sides with a bus on a California road.
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Google says it bears “some responsibility” for a low-speed accident in which one of its self-guided cars nicked the side of a bus on a California road — an apparent first for the company as it moves ahead with its plans for a driverless future.

One of Google’s driverless cars (which are tested with a human aboard, just in case) was cruising along El Camino Real in Mountain View, California on Valentine’s Day when it came to an intersection and positioned itself to make a right turn, including to a traffic report from the state Department of Motor Vehicles.

Some sandbags were blocking the turn, so after letting a few (human-occupied) cars pass, the Google vehicle angled itself to move back into traffic, and brushed an approaching bus.

“The Google AV [autonomous vehicle] test driver saw the bus approaching in the left side mirror but believed the bus would stop or allow the Google AV to continue,” the DMV report dated Feb. 23 states. “The Google AV was operating in autonomous mode and traveling at less than 2 mph, and the bus was travelling at about 15 mph at the time of contact.”

No one was hurt in the accident, and there were minor damages to the left front side of the Google vehicle.

In an excerpt from the company’s monthly self-driving car report due out March 1 and provided to NBC News, the company details the moments leading up to the accident, saying that the car had detected the bus coming up on its left, but predicted it would stop for the Google Lexus-model car.

“This is a classic example of the negotiation that’s a normal part of driving — we’re all trying to predict each other’s movements. In this case, we clearly bear some responsibility, because if our car hadn’t moved there wouldn’t have been a collision,” Google says in the monthly report due out Tuesday.

“That said, our test driver believed the bus was going to slow or stop to allow us to merge into the traffic, and that there would be sufficient space to do that.”

“We’ve now reviewed this incident (and thousands of variations on it) in our simulator in detail and made refinements to our software.

From now on, our cars will more deeply understand that buses (and other large vehicles) are less likely to yield to us than other types of vehicles, and we hope to handle situations like this more gracefully in the future,” Google says in the report.

Last year Google said that its vehicles had been involved in 17 minor accidents since the tech company began experimenting with cars that could drive themselves, but that in those incidents,"not once was the self-driving car the cause of the accident."