Self-driving cars getting more autonomous
Most recent safety report shows fewer interventions by humans
LOS ANGELES — Self-driving car prototypes appear to be getting better at negotiating California streets and highways without a human backup needing to intervene, according to data released by California transportation regulators.
The data reflect safety-related incidents reported by 11 companies that have been testing more than 100 vehicles on public roads, primarily in the Silicon Valley neighbourhoods where the technology has grown up. The reports were made to California’s Department of Motor Vehicles, which posted them online.
The documents catalogue the number of times from December 2015 through the end of last November that humans took control from a car’s software for safety-related reasons.
Waymo, as Google’s self-driving car project was recently rebranded, did far more testing than the other 10 companies combined.
Waymo reported that its fleet drove itself more than 1,021,933 kilometres with 124 safety-related “disengagements” — the equivalent of two incidents every 16,000 km. That was a notable improvement over the prior year, when there were eight incidents per 16,000 km.
A reportable disengagement happens when the technology fails or the backup driver takes control out of concern the car is malfunctioning.
Though imperfect, the data are the best peek the public gets into the fiercely competitive world of self-driving cars and how the prototypes are performing. California required the disengagement reports as part of regulations governing testing on public roads. Separately, the state also requires companies to report any collisions involving its cars.
The Department of Motor Vehicles has been working on regulations that will define how the technology can be rolled out to the public when companies believe it is ready. When that will happen depends on several factors, including regulators’ readiness and company confidence the vehicles are safe.
While Tesla’s Elon Musk has been bullish, talking about months rather than years, companies such as Waymo have suggested 2017 or 2018 is more realistic.
Tesla started testing four selfdriving cars on California’s public roads late last year, according to the report. That’s a key milestone for Musk, who is planning an autonomous road trip from Los Angeles to New York by the end of 2017.
Tesla’s Autopilot technology is a driver assistance feature, and the company didn’t file a disengagement report from 2015. But four Tesla vehicles travelled a total of 885 km on California public roads in October and November 2016 with 182 disengagements, according to a filing with the motor vehicle department. Tesla reported that there were “no emergencies, accidents or collisions.”
The state expects to release a final version of the “public operation” regulations within six weeks, according to Melissa Figueroa, a spokesperson for California’s top transportation official.
Waymo, Google’s self-driving unit, says its autonomous vehicles have driven more than one million kilometres on California roads.