Why the Near Collision of Two Self-Driving Cars Is Good News
NEWS ANALYSIS: Two rival autonomous cars in California nearly collided on public roads. Here is why there is nothing ominous about that despite some views expressed in media reports.The news carried by Reuters on Thursday, June 25, that two self-driving cars from rival makers almost had an accident during a lane-change maneuver on a street in Palo Alto, Calif., may be the most encouraging recent news to come from the growing effort to develop autonomous vehicles. The key word here is "almost." The fact is that they didn't actually have an accident. What apparently happened is that two self-driving cars, both occupied by passengers in the drivers' seats but who were not actually driving, wanted the same spot in the same lane. A Google prototype, based on a Lexus RX400h hybrid crossover SUV, pulled into the line of traffic that the other car was preparing to enter. The second car, a prototype Audi Q5 crossover SUV from auto parts maker Delphi, detected the lane change by the Google vehicle and aborted its own lane change until the lane was clear, at which point it also changed lanes. That's it. Had this happened while the humans in the cars were driving, the moves would have been totally routine. As it happens both of the autonomous vehicles handled the situation exactly as they should have. There was no exchange of rude gestures or screamed obscenities. It was by all accounts a non-event other than the fact that they were driving in traffic on public streets. Now, writers in the non-tech media are seeing reason for concern.
A little context is probably needed. I live and work in the suburbs of Washington, DC. An event such as the one above would have been notable mostly because of the lack of gunfire or other murderous intent.