Taking back control of autonomous car may be risky, warns new study

In the interim between manual driving and a fully autonomous car future, there will be a variety of points where an autonomous system hands over control to the human in the front seat.

This transition isn’t like anything experienced before in the automotive world and some drivers may struggle to adapt to this new way of driving, according to a new study conducted by Stanford University researchers.

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A moderate change in the speed of the car could be enough to effect a driver taking back control, which may make them to over and understeer during the transition period before adapting to the new conditions on the road.

“There is this physical change and we need to acknowledge that people’s performance might not be at its peak if they haven’t actively been participating in the driving,” said Holly Russell, lead author and former graduate student at Stanford University.

Even with warnings, drivers struggle

Researchers provided testers with a few seconds warning before turning off the self-driving system, enough for them to prepare to take control. Even with this advance warning, all drivers struggled to adapt to the new conditions.

“Even knowing about the change, being able to make a plan and do some explicit motor planning for how to compensate, you still saw a very different steering behavior and compromised performance,” said Lene Harbott, co-author and research associate at Stanford.

Different measures could be taken to ensure a frictionless transition on public roads, like lowering the car’s speed and providing other cars nearby with a visual alert. Harbott said automotive manufacturers should also have a specific model in place that has been reviewed, to ensure that drivers aren’t spinning off the road.

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