Self-driv­ing cars get­ting more au­ton­o­mous

Most re­cent safety re­port shows fewer in­ter­ven­tions by hu­mans

The Hamilton Spectator - - BUSINESS - JUSTIN PRITCHARD

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.

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