The fact that Google’s bubble-like self-driving car, unveiled this week, lacks a steering wheel might be seen as evidence the company’s software is close to mastering the challenges of piloting a vehicle. But the car’s design is just as much a consequence of what Google’s existing fleet of automated Lexus SUVs revealed about human laziness.
Google’s engineers had been focused on perfecting how well those modified cars could handle freeway driving, and they imagined their technology hitting the market in a way that left humans sharing driving duties with their vehicle. “The idea was that the human drives onto the freeway, engages the system, [and] it takes them on the bulk of the trip—the boring part—and then they reëngage,” said Nathaniel Fairfield, a technical lead on the project, speaking at the Embedded Vision Summit in Santa Clara, California, on Thursday.
That approach had to be scrapped after tests showed that…
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