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State Law Forces Google to Add Steering Wheels to Self-Drive Cars

Google Self-Driving Car
Photo Credit: Steve Jurvetson (modified by Mariordo) via wikipedia

Google’s self-driving cars will not be completely steered by technology after all — at least, not yet.

The California Department of Motor Vehicles has made it mandatory for drivers to gain “immediate physical control” of a vehicle, necessitating the addition of a steering wheel and gas and brake pedals to its fleet of self-driving cars.

Google's driverless car
Google’s driverless car

The technology firm has said it will obey the new regulation set to go into effect in mid-September.

“During our testing we are equipping the vehicles with manual controls such as a steering wheel, brake pedal, and accelerator pedal,” a Google spokesperson told CNet. “With these additions, our safety drivers can test the self-driving features while having the ability to take control of the vehicle if necessary.”

Google has said the car can detect hundreds of objects — pedestrians, stop signs in the hands of a crossing guard and obstacles on the road — simultaneously. The vehicle not only senses such obstacles but, unlike a human driver, does not become irritated or tired while traveling.

An added bonus, wrote project director Chris Urmson in a blog post, is while humans can be distracted and unable to predict what lies ahead while driving, the Google vehicle has shown it can.

“As it turns out, what looks chaotic and random on a city street to the human eye is actually fairly predictable to a computer,” he wrote. “As we’ve encountered thousands of different situations, we’ve built software models of what to expect, from the likely (a car stopping at a red light) to the unlikely (blowing through it).”

Urmson said, however, there remains much work to do on the new technology.

Google has not said how long it might be before the cars, realistically, will be ready to take to the road without at least some human help.

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