Self-driving cars are on the horizon, but don’t expect them to include a steering wheel for you to grab. (Tony Avelar/AP)
Last week I shared some photos from inside Google’s prototype of a self-driving car. The reactions were about as polarized as I’ve ever seen on a blog post I’ve written. The first group of readers were amazed, and they wanted to know where they could buy one. Everyone else was terrified of the interior. A car that they could never steer? No thanks.
The problem with including a steering wheel in a self-driving car is that human drivers can’t be trusted to effectively take over in sticky situations. So the makers of driverless cars can’t responsibly include a steering wheel.
Research that Stanford has done shows that drivers resuming control from Level 3 vehicles functioning in autonomous mode take 10 seconds just to attain the level of ability that a drunk driver possesses. And to get back to full driving competence takes 60 seconds.
That’s a full 10 seconds just to function at the level of someone who shouldn’t be behind the wheel. A self-driving car cruising at 70 mph is unlikely to have 60 or even 10 seconds to wait for a human to take over.
“A huge fraction of the time, nothing bad will happen because the vehicles really are reliable, hundreds of kilometers at a time before something really terrible happens,” said Ed Olson, a University of Michigan professor researching self-driving car technology. “You can’t just be tootling along on the freeway and the car says — ‘Oh your turn!’ Meanwhile the person is like ‘What?’ ”
Hoffman’s entire post on LinkedIn is worth your time. It’s full of interesting insights, such as how cars will turn into places for marketing and advertising. A coffee shop, for example, might even pay your self-driving car company to take you a block or two out of your way so that you drive by it. Accepting flexible, out-of-your way routes might mean a cheaper fare, and you might get offered a coupon to that coffee shop.