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Study: Humans Drop Baton in Autonomous Car Control Hand-Off

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Self-driving Chevy Bolts have begun testing on public roadways in Michigan

As humans, we are good at a lot of things—we can create art, ponder the deepest recesses of the universe, and create fantastic machines to make our lives easier. However, when it comes to taking back the wheel from a self-driving car, it seems that Google was right and we may as well leave it to the machines, according to a study published in the journal Human Factors.


Frankly put, researchers from the University of Southampton found that we are just garbage when it comes time to take the wheel back.

This conclusion came from putting a sample of 26 men and women, ages 20-52, and put them all in a driving simulator, where the car was driving itself at 70mph. Some were given a secondary task to perform while riding, some weren’t, but at some point between 30 and 45 second, the car would simply ask them to take over.

The results were not encouraging. In this non-emergency situation, it took anywhere from 2 to 26 seconds for the human to take over. In that time, the car would have travelled anywhere from 205 to almost 2,700 feet. At the low end, that’s most of a football field, and at the high end, that’s over half a mile.

So, the question becomes, how long of a warning should, or can, an autonomous car give? Too short a time, and a panicked driver may accidentally swerve, make sudden lane changes, or stomp on the brakes—while these may be fine if the driver is avoiding a crash, a too-sudden return to control may put even a calm driver out of control. On the other hand, what if the driver doesn’t respond?

The researchers concluded that more research should be done before we can answer that question.

News Sources: Popular Science, University of Southampton