Humans had to take wheel of Google self-drive cars 350 times

Google’s test drivers have had to grab the wheel of their self-driving cars nearly 350 times since the vehicles were allowed on to public roads.

The self-driving technology on the cars failed 272 times between September 2014 and November last year, the company revealed in a filing to the California motor regulator.

Google is testing modified Lexus vehicles on public roads and its own self-driving bubble concept car on a test track near its headquarters in Silicon Valley. The company said that its self-driving cars had travelled more than 1.3 million miles in autonomous mode by the end of last November. Nearly 425,000 of those miles were on public roads.

Google test drivers took the wheel of their own accord 69 times in the same period, the filing showed. On 13 occasions the car’s self-driving technology was disengaged on purpose to simulate a crash, the company said.

Chris Urmson, the head of the self-driving car project, said: “Although we’re not quite ready to declare that we’re safer than average human drivers on public roads, we’re happy to be making steady progress toward the day we can start inviting members of the public to use our cars.”

Disengagements were a “critical part of the testing process that allows our engineers to expand the software’s capabilities,” Google said. “Our objective is not to minimise disengagements; rather, it is to gather, while operating safely, as much data as possible. Our powerful simulator generates thousands of virtual testing scenarios for us.”

Mr. Urmson said that self-driving cars would reduce road deaths by eliminating human inattention and error. Not to mention, they would have great commercial use as well; if used by freight companies in delivery and other such services, autonomous trucks and cars would be able to make the delivery with accuracy and save time and manpower costs. “This is why many people are excited about autonomous vehicles,” said Mr. Urmson.

Google has created a virtual reality computing division to compete with several companies that are launching virtual reality headsets this year.