Self-driving cars improving after 1 million miles


The California Department of Motor Vehicles released its annual report on Monday on the number of times human testers inside self-driving vehicles had to disengage from the autonomous driving technology and take control of the vehicle.

Companies permitted with the state to test self-driving vehicles on public roads, including the Bay Area’s Alphabet Inc.’s Waymo and Tesla Motors, Inc., must report the disengagement numbers to the DMV by the beginning of the New Year as part of the state’s testing program of self-driving vehicles.

They also have to report the testing condition at the time, the location such as highway or parking lot where testing took place, the total annual miles the vehicles traveled on public roads while using the autonomous technology and the length of time elapsed of when the driver receives an alert of a failure and took manual control of the vehicle.

Waymo saw fewer disengagements with the self-driving technology in 2016 compared to 2015, according to report submitted by the company.

Last year, Waymo’s self-driving vehicles drove 635,638 miles on public roads in the state with 124 reported disengagements.

In comparison to 2015, their self-driving vehicles drove 424,331 miles on public roads with 341 reported disengagements.

Dmitri Dolgov, head of Waymo’s self-driving technology, wrote on a blog post that the report shows that company is making significant improvements in the self-driving technology:

“This four-fold improvement reflects the significant work we’ve been doing to make our software and hardware more capable and mature.”

Way reported that some of the reasons of disengagments from the technology were specific to weather, reckless driving behavior from other drivers or from a “software discrepancy.”

Dolgov wrote that with each disengagement, the company is learning and refining its self-driving vehicle by creating different situations through simulation:

“This allows us to do a more thorough job identifying the root cause of any disengage and resolving any problems in a robust way.”

A report from Tesla Motors showed the company mostly tested its self-driving vehicles in October of last year logging in 550 miles and 132 disengagements.

Reasons for disengagement were vague from the Silicon Valley company:

“Follower output invalid.”

And also:

“Planner output invalid.”

Other companies such as Mercedes-Benz, which reported 153 disengagements between Dec. 1, 2015 to Nov. 30, 2016, also cited less specific reasons for disengagement with the autonomous technology:

“Automatic disengagements happen due to technology evaluation management.”

There are currently 21 companies registered with the state to test self-driving vehicles on the road. Companies permitted last year will submit reports to the state next year.

Eleven companies had to submit annual reports to the state last month. American Honda Motor Co. Inc., and Volkswagen Group of America, Inc. said they did not test any autonomous vehicles on public roads in the state.

Jerold Chinn
Jerold Chinn is the San Francisco Bureau Chief of SFBay. A San Francisco native, he has spent a decade covering transportation in San Francisco. Send tips to or at Twitter @Jerold_Chinn.

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