Last night Reuters breathlessly reported that two self-driving cars – one from Delphi and another from Google – had a “close call” in which an autonomous Lexus from Google “cut off” an Audi from Delphi. Except they really didn’t. They reacted exactly like two responsible human drivers would, which is what they’re designed to do.
The “incident” happened on Tuesday in Palo Alto, where – out of sheer luck and strange Silicon Valley serendipity – the two cars were traveling alongside each other on San Antonio Road.
In a common scenario we’ve all encountered dozens of times, both cars wanted to do a lane change into the same lane at the same time. But here’s how Reuters described it:
As the Delphi vehicle prepared to change lanes, a Google self-driving prototype - a Lexus RX400h crossover fitted with similar hardware and software - cut off the Audi, forcing it to abort the lane change, Absmeier said.
Reuters has a strange definition of being “cut off”, and even Delphi agrees, saying that during the maneuver neither vehicle came “within a lane width of each other”.
According to a statement from Delphi:
Our car saw the Google car move into the same lane as our car was planning to move into, but upon detecting that the lane was no longer open it decided to terminate the move and wait until it was clear again.
What’s remarkable (but not sensational) about this interaction is that the Delphi car made a decision based on the situation in the same way a human would using a combination of experience and instinct. And the fact that Delphi managed to get its algorithms and sensors to pull off that maneuver at that speed speaks volumes.
Reuters didn’t get a comment from Google, but we did:
The headline here is that two self-driving cars did what they were supposed to do in an ordinary everyday driving scenario – one car yielded to another.
Sounds less like a “close call” and more like “daily life.”