Google, Delphi change story, saying their self-driving cars never got close

The companies dispute a Reuters story that described a coincidental encounter as a “near miss,” saying both cars were “doing what they were supposed to do.”

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Update: A Delphi self-driving car and a Google self-driving car did, by utter coincidence, happen to drive near each other last Tuesday on a public road in Mountain View, California. The cars did both try to change into the same lane at the same time.

However, the two companies dispute how a Reuters reporter described that encounter, as a “near miss,” in a news story from Thursday. The Delphi executive who was interviewed by Reuters issued a retraction. A follow-up story from Ars Technica quotes Delphi spokesperson Kristen Kinley as saying, “the story was taken completely out of context,” specifying that “it wasn’t a ‘near miss’ as described in the Reuters story.”

On Friday, Reuters posted a separate story describing Delphi’s position but also stating that it stood by the accuracy of its original story. Reuters did, however, alter some of its original post. On Saturday, Ars Technica updated its follow-up story, adding a statement from Reuters.

A Reuters spokeperson told PCWorld, "Reuters stands by the accuracy of its story." Our article stands below so you can see our original coverage of the Reuters report.

No further irony need be applied to this story of self-driving car vs. self-driving car. On Tuesday, according to a Reuters report, one of Google’s self-driving Lexus RX test vehicles cut off a car as it drove a public street in Mountain View, California. The car it cut off was a self-driving test vehicle from Delphi, a Tier-1 automotive supplier developing its own technology just down the road from Google.

Reuters’ source for the story was John Absmeier, the director of Delphi Labs in Mountain View. Absmeier was riding in his company’s test car when the close encounter with the Google car occurred. Reuters quotes Absmeier as saying the Delphi car “took appropriate action,” and the cars did not actually collide.

While it’s true that Delphi and Google are competing to develop self-driving technology, Absmeier would have no reason to embellish this story to make his own company look better. Both cars are collecting scads of driving data, which could easily be consulted if there were any question. Also, Google just started issuing monthly reports on incidents involving its self-driving cars. According to Reuters, Google declined to comment on Absmeier’s story.

Why this matters: Google’s self-driving car project will go on, but with a small dent to its dignity. This news has emerged a scant day after Google proudly announced the debut of its latest self-driving car—the cute little bug-shaped car, not one of the retrofitted Lexus cars—on Mountain View streets. Google’s publicity photo for that car showed it driving on what appears to be the same street, San Antonio Road, where the Google-Delphi dust-up took place. If nothing else, it sounds like everyone should drive extra-carefully around there. 

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