The biggest recent story in the world of autonomous cars is the fatal crash of Joshua Brown who was operating his Tesla Model S in Autopilot mode at the time of the accident. His is the first fatal accident involving semi-autonomous car, and as a result, many questions have been raised about our self-driving car-filled future. John Krafcik, Google's self-driving car boss, addressed Brown's fatal crash in a recent interview.
In an , Krafcik said that Brown's crash proves the inherent danger in semi-autonomous vehicles and why ultimately, fully autonomous cars are necessary. Google is aiming solely to create a fully autonomous vehicle, which (L4); Tesla's Autopilot is a Level 2 (L2) semi-autonomous system in its current state.
"[W]e need to make sure we're using the right language when we talk about what happened with that accident," Krafcik told Businessweek. "That wasn't a self-driving car, what we refer to as an L4, or fully autonomous car."
Krafcik said that Google tested its own L2 system, but it abandoned it when it found that drivers weren't paying attention to the road even when instructed specifically to do so.
"After three months [of testing,] we saw enough to say this is definitely a problem. People would take their eyes off the road for some period, look down at their phones and start texting while in the driver's seat. Turning around to the back to get their laptop because they needed to plug their phone in. Right? When you're hurtling down the road at 60 miles an hour in a two-ton vehicle?
That takes us to the fundamental conundrum of the L2 semiautonomous solutions: As they get better and better, but not quite good enough for humans to zone out entirely, then risk increases"
Of course, as Krafcik expounds the virtue of fully-autonomous cars, he also reaffirms his car enthusiast credentials, as he did in our own interview with him.
"We'll always have cars that are a blast to drive, absolutely," he told Businessweek. "I don't think in our lifetimes we have to worry about driver's licenses being taken away from people or the freedom to drive our vehicles where we want. I don't think that's a future that any of us—or anyone—wants."