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Two Rival Self-Driving Cars Have Close Call in California (Updated)

A Delphi exec says the autonomous Audi in which he was riding had to yield to a self-driving Google Lexus.

Delphi Automotive

Two self-driving prototype cars, one operated by Google and the other by Delphi Automotive, had a close call on a Silicon Valley street earlier this week, a Delphi executive told Reuters on Thursday.

It was believed to be the first such incident involving two vehicles specially equipped for automated driving.

(Update: Representatives of both companies on Friday took issue with the description of the incident as a “close call”; see below.)

The incident occurred Tuesday on San Antonio Road in Palo Alto, said John Absmeier, director of Delphi’s Silicon Valley lab and global business director for the company’s automated driving program, who was a passenger in one of the cars.

No collision took place.

Google declined to comment.

Absmeier was a passenger in a prototype Audi Q5 crossover vehicle equipped with lasers, radar, cameras and special computer software designed to enable the vehicle to drive itself, with a person at the wheel as a backup.

As the Delphi vehicle prepared to change lanes, a Google self-driving prototype — a Lexus RX400h crossover fitted with similar hardware and software — cut off the Audi, forcing it to abort the lane change, Absmeier said.

The Delphi car “took appropriate action,” according to Absmeier.

Delphi’s Silicon Valley lab is based in Mountain View, not far from Google headquarters. While Delphi is running two Audi prototypes in California, Google has been testing more than 20 Lexus prototypes.

On Thursday, Google started testing self-driving vehicle prototypes of its own design on local streets. The latest prototypes use the same software as the Lexus vehicles.

Both companies previously have reported minor collisions of self-driving cars with vehicles piloted by people. In most of those cases, the self-driving car was stopped, typically at an intersection, and was rear-ended by another vehicle.

In all cases, the self-driving prototype was not at fault, according to the California Department of Motor Vehicles and the companies.

(Reporting by Paul Lienert; Editing by Stephen R. Trousdale and Leslie Adler)

Update: Representatives of both Google and Delphi said the Tuesday incident had been mischaracterized.

“The headline here is that two self-driving cars did what they were supposed to do in an ordinary everyday driving scenario — one car yielded to another,” Google told auto news site Jalopnik.

And in email to tech news site Ars Technica, Delphi spokeswoman Kristin Kinley said, “I was there for the discussion with Reuters about automated vehicles. The story was taken completely out of context. … Our expert provided an example of a lane change scenario that our car recently experienced, which, coincidentally, was with one of the Google cars also on the road at that time. It wasn’t a ‘near miss’ as described in the Reuters story.

“Our car did exactly what it was supposed to. Our car saw the Google car move into the same lane as our car was planning to move into, but upon detecting that the lane was no longer open it decided to terminate the move and wait until it was clear again.”

— Re/code

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