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Google's autonomous vehicle stopped by cops

By raccars Published

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An autonomous car belonging to Google has been pulled over by the police in the past week due to a speed issue.

Google is one of the most significant players in the race to become the first firm to develop a truly autonomous car, capable of driving long distances without any assistance from a human. But a headline-grabbing story from the US suggests that the search giant may be a little way away from perfecting this technology. One of its test vehicles recently found itself on the wrong side of the law in California, according to the Telegraph.

The incident occurred in Mountain View, the city in which Google is headquartered and the location in which it has been carrying out some rigorous testing of its early autonomous vehicles. And while the police officer was concerned about the speed at which the vehicle was moving, the issue it seems was not that it was exceeding the legal limit; quite the opposite. The car was stopped because it was travelling at 24 miles per hour on a road where the limit was 35 miles per hour.

This story gives some indication as to the challenges that companies such as Google are facing when it comes to creating autonomous cars. This is because it is not only necessary to make sure that these vehicles can safely scan the environment and navigate roads without incident, but it requires programming them in a way that makes it possible for them to share the road with human-controlled vehicles - and of course traffic cops.

Slowing the speed of progress

The good news for Google is that the police decided not to issue a fine in this case. And in fact the firm later issued a statement in which it confirmed that even by driving at 11 miles per hour below the speed limit, its autonomous car was not in fact breaking the law. On board was a human occupant tasked with monitoring its progress and this whole incident therefore raises some interesting questions as to how responsibility will be established in the future when autonomous vehicles are more common and accidents occur.

Google has spoken about the way in which it is developing the programming for its autonomous cars, indicating that in order to ensure they are safe to use on public roads during testing, they are set to drive slowly and with caution. This explained why the car stopped by the cops was only travelling at 24mph in a 35mph zone. But the company has also experimented with more aggressive driving settings, which even allow the autonomous cars to cut corners. It is believed that this will make them a little more at home in sharing the road with human drivers not accustomed to placid behaviour.

Police reasoning

The 24mph speed of Google’s autonomous car had created a queue of traffic, prompting the police to pull it over. While there is a law about impeding the flow of other vehicles that is enforced in California, the fact that the car was travelling below the speed limit was deemed to be sufficient evidence to confirm that no rules of the road had been broken.

Aside from safety, Google’s early tests of autonomous vehicles have involved programming which takes the cautious approach to driving with the objective of building a friendly and unintimidating reputation around these driverless cars. The company is looking to develop trust and understanding amongst other motorists and members of the public, even if this does mean that at times the cars move a little slowly and take their time when turning across traffic.

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