‘Scary’ results found in Google’s autopilot project

‘Scary’ results found in Google’s autopilot project
Google will not move forward with plans for a feature which asks drivers to re-take control of self-driving cars in times of danger.

According to the head of its Waymo programme, drivers are too susceptible to a “loss of contextual awareness” when returning to the wheel, having been relying on the vehicle for long periods.

Waymo CEO John Krafcik admitted “pretty scary” scenarios emerged during testing of the now-scrapped feature – including drivers caught napping at speeds of up to 56mph.

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Reliance on autopilot causes test drivers to become easily distracted, Mr Krafcik told reporters during a media tour of a Waymo facility in California.

When dangerous situations arise, it is not safe for a motorist to come in from the cold and marshal the vehicle out of trouble.

“What we found was pretty scary. It’s hard to take over because they [the test drivers] have lost contextual awareness,” Mr Krafcik added.

One driver was applying make-up at high speed when asked to re-take the wheel, he revealed.

Following the filmed tests – which took place in 2013 but were not shown publicly until the tour – the company decided to ditch the alert-based systems, instead focusing on technology that doesn’t require human intervention.

Back in the summer, an RAC Opinion Panel poll showed there remains widespread scepticism over autonomous cars, with many doubtful that they would be a way of life in 20 years’ time.

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Waymo is instead currently testing self-driving Chrysler Pacifica mini-vans which have just two manual buttons – one to start a ride, the other an instruction to safely pull over.

It also operates a smaller, ride-hailing pilot programme in Arizona that uses self-driving cars. According to Reuters, the service is limited to roads that the company has conducted extensive tests on.

Mr Krafcik though confirmed Waymo is “close” to expanding beyond this small experiment.

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