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Who's to blame when an autonomous vehicle crashes?

Who's to blame when an autonomous vehicle crashes?

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Google's self-driving cars reportedly had their first public collision, sparking questions about who's responsible when an autonomous vehicle goes berserk.

The folks at auto blog Jalopnik this afternoon posted what they say are photos of Google's first (update: second!) public self-driving car crash.

Here's what we know thus far:

  • It happened near Google's Mountain View, Calif. headquarters.
  • It's a minor collision -- apparently one autonomous Toyota Prius rear-ended another.
  • Autonomous vehicles are legal in California.
  • Google says the driver had switched the vehicle into manual mode.
  • Earlier this year, the state legislature of Nevada created a special license that allows autonomous vehicles on the state's freeways.

Google's self-driving vehicles use various sensors and algorithms to get the job done.

Here's our exclusive look at the project in a video from May:


And here's Stanford Artificial Intelligence Lab director Sebastian Thrun explaining the system, and the motive behind it, at TED 2011:

In his post, Jalopnik's Justin Hyde asks legitimate questions about potential fender-benders with autonomous cars. Who gets the ticket? How can we determine with accuracy whether the vehicle was in autonomous mode or not?

And how will the courts deal with these issues?

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Andrew Nusca

Editor Emeritus

Andrew Nusca is editor of SmartPlanet and an associate editor for ZDNet. Previously, he worked at Money, Men's Vogue and Popular Mechanics magazines. He holds degrees from the Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism and New York University. He is based in New York but resides in Philadelphia. Follow him on Twitter. Disclosure