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Google’s Next Phase in Driverless Cars: No Brakes or Steering Wheels

Not having found a satisfactory solution for returning control of its autonomous cars to the driver in the event of an emergency, Google has shifted its strategy...
June 2, 2014

Not having found a satisfactory solution for returning control of its autonomous cars to the driver in the event of an emergency, Google has shifted its strategy. The company is now focusing on the development of a car that will do away with all standard controls. A fleet of 100 experimental, low-speed, two-seat, electric-powered vehicles being built will not have steering wheels, gas pedals, brakes or gear shifts. Passengers will only be able to use a start button and a red stop button for panic stops. Currently several car manufacturers are experimenting with vehicles that provide some measure of “driver assist,” but a Google engineer dismissed them as not being “transformative” enough.

Laws that permit autonomous vehicles in California, Nevada and Florida have generally been written with the expectation that a human driver would be able to take control in emergencies. Google engineers say they realized that asking a human passenger—who could be reading or daydreaming or even sleeping—to take over in an emergency won’t work. “We saw stuff that made us a little nervous,” said Christopher Urmson, a former Carnegie Mellon University roboticist who directs the car project at Google. Just one question: A car without brakes or a steering wheel doesn’t make you nervous?

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