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Former Google self-driving car engineer says safety not the priority

Former Google self-driving car engineer says safety not the priority 2

Mark Kauzlarich | Bloomberg | Getty Images

The Jaguar I-Pace with Waymo autonomous electric vehicle (EV) is unveiled during an event in New York, on Tuesday, March 27, 2018.

A new New Yorker report this week details the events leading up to Waymo’s 2017 high-profile lawsuit alleging Uber stole its trade secrets for creating self-driving vehicles. But in the run up to that legal battle, Google’s lax approach to vehicle safety as it developed its self-driving technology stands out.

According to the report, Google had multiple accidents involving self-driving cars prior to the installment of California state regulations in 2014 that require companies to report such incidents. Unnamed Google executives told the New Yorker that over a dozen accidents occurred in the early years of Google’s self-driving car project, which was called Project Chauffeur at the time. (Project Chauffeur is now an independent company called Waymo under Google’s parent company Alphabet.)

One notable accident involved Anthony Levandowski, a key engineer on Project Chauffeur who was at the center of the lawsuit against Uber for allegedly stealing trade secrets from Waymo. In 2011, Levandowski jumped into a self-driving Prius with Google executive Isaac Taylor. Levandowski wanted to prove that his software changes on the self-driving car were necessary, but the two ultimately ended up in an accident that left Taylor with a spinal injury that required surgery, according to the New Yorker report.

Levandowski acknowledged that innovation trumped safety in his view.

“If it is your job to advance technology, safety cannot be your No. 1 concern,” he told the New Yorker. “If it is, you’ll never do anything. It’s always safer to leave the car in the driveway. You’ll never learn from a real mistake.”

Read the full report in the New Yorker.

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