On a day where public transport chaos caused by unions affects Auckland we can see the future in an article at The Atlantic. Google’s self driving cars have now logged more than 300,000 miles of driving without a single accident.
The future isn’t rehashed 19th century technology confined to rails and loops, rather it is ubiquitous information highways and computer controlled self driving cars.
Len Brown can moan all he likes about his multi-billion dollar millstone of a rail loop, but he would be better advised to invest in communications infrastructure to support driverless cars and then turn Auckland into a truly spectacular liveable city. He could even drop the $400 million notes required for the Pacific Fibre and pop that into the infrastructure development for the city, it would certainly be more beneficial over a longer term than a stupid rail loop.
Ever since Google began designing its self-driving cars, they’ve wanted to build cars that go beyond the capabilities of human-piloted vehicles, cars that are much, much safer. When Sebastian Thrun announced the project in 2010, he wrote, “According to the World Health Organization, more than 1.2 million lives are lost every year in road traffic accidents. We believe our technology has the potential to cut that number, perhaps by as much as half.”
New data indicate that Google’s on the right path. Earlier this week the company announced that the self-driving cars have now logged some 300,000 miles and “there hasn’t been a single accident under computer control.” (The New York Times did note in a 2010 article that a self-driving car was rear-ended while stopped at a traffic light, so Google must not be counting the incidents that were the fault of flawed humans.)
For comparison, in the United States in 2009 there were 10.8 million traffic collisions, according to the Census Bureau. That same year, American cars logged some 2.954 trillion miles, for a collision rate of about .365 per 100,000 vehicle miles traveled. Now, you can’t directly compare the two figures. Google’s cars have been tested in pretty hospitable conditions, not facing, for example, the rigors of a New England winter. And, as Google engineer Chris Urmson, writes, they still “need to master snow-covered roadways, interpret temporary construction signals and handle other tricky situations that many drivers encounter.” Additionally, the cars are still driving with “occasional” human control. But at the very least, the Google cars are slowly building a pretty good-looking driving record.
This technology is still at its very early stages and 300,000 miles is not all that big of a sample. According to a “cursory” analysis by Bryant Walker Smith of Stanford Law School, “Google’s cars would need to drive themselves (by themselves) more than 725,000 representative miles without incident for us to say with 99 percent confidence that they crash less frequently than conventional cars. If we look only at fatal crashes, this minimum skyrockets to 300 million miles.” We’re still a long way away from there.