Who’s to blame when Google’s robot cars crash?

Google’s testing of driverless cars has come crashing to a halt as scientists try to sort out who was responsible for smashing them in to each other.

The cars had driven 140,000 around California’s busy roads close to Google’s Mountain View headquarters near San Jose since May without a mishap.

Crammed full of techno wizardry, like laser range finders and sensors to ‘see’ the road around them, the electronics had steered through traffic jams and crowded city streets without any intervention from a driver.

Then human error was introduced as an unnamed culprit took over and a Toyota Prius, a Honda Accord and an unnamed third car were in a collision.

Presumably Google has car insurance in place for the vehicles – but this begs the question of who is at fault when driverless cars crash?

If the car has passengers, is it them…or the programmer or the person setting the destination?

Google explained: “Safety is our top priority. One of our goals is to prevent fender-benders like this one, which occurred while a person was manually driving the car.”

Key to the Google robot car is Google Maps and Android phone technology. When linked to massive off-board processing power on the cloud, the software takes over the cars in real-time.

“Our automated cars, manned by trained operators, just drove from our Mountain View campus to our Santa Monica office and on to Hollywood Boulevard,” software engineer Sebastian Thrun said.

“They’ve driven down Lombard Street, crossed the Golden Gate bridge, navigated the Pacific Coast Highway, and even made it all the way around Lake Tahoe.”

Google is not alone in the race to bring driverless cars to the market – Chinese scientists have remotely driven Hongqi HQ3 cars over a 165-mile route, overtaking 67 other cars on the way.

Volkswagen is developing  “Temporary Auto Pilot” (TAP) that ‘drives’ a car at speeds between 40 and 80 mph on a motorway.

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