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Google Wants to Take the Steering Wheel Off Autonomous Cars, and It Has a Point

This whole self-driving cars business never sat well with those who actually enjoy driving, but now Google is taking things one step further. The tech giant, through the voice of Chris Urmson, technical director of the Google self-driving car project, is now postulating the idea of removing the steering wheel and the rest of the commands altogether.
Google Lexus RX450h 1 photo
Have these people gone mad? Are they on a crusade to kill driving and transform us all into eternal passengers? Well, yes and no. The prospect of a vehicle where there is absolutely no way for the human to control the car directly seems scary right now, and it doesn’t paint a future where you’d be in any hurry to get.

The idea of cars with hybrid controls is simple: let the AI deal with the everyday commute so you can relax or do something more productive, while during the weekends you can take control on that challenging section of your favorite mountain pass and have some fun. It’s the best of the two worlds, and you can’t see what’s wrong with this scenario.

But Google can. According to their views, the self-driving cars should be allowed on the road even if they don’t have a driving license holder on board, and if we can agree to that, then it makes sense to suggest that it would be perfectly acceptable to have a car with no steering wheel or pedals. Not only is the classic human-vehicle interface not necessary in this situation, but it can also become quite dangerous.

Having a certified driver in the vehicle doesn’t change things that much. Imagine something bad is happening and the human needs to take control. Would you really want someone who hasn’t been paying any attention to the road suddenly in control? Would that actually make things better, improve the odds of the dangerous situation having a positive outcome? Chris Urmson thinks otherwise.

"You wouldn't imagine that in the back of a taxi, we put an extra steering wheel or brake pedal there for the passenger to grab ahold of anytime. It would just be crazy to think about doing that. [...] But I think the idea that you want the person to jump in who hasn't been paying attention or maybe had a couple of drinks with dinner and then jump in to override is probably not the right idea." 

In a recent interview with NPR, Google’s main man on the task addressed all these subjects, and more. Including one involving a woman in an electric chair chasing a duck with a broom. It’s worth a read.


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