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Self-driving cars can affect drivers’ steering skills, Stanford study says

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Holly Russell is lead author of a new study on the handover of control from an autonomous car to a human driver. (Photo courtesy Standford)
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A new study from Stanford shows that people who transition from an autonomous non-driving experience to one that requires actual driving have a hard time adjusting to the change.

In the study, 22 drivers were assigned self-driving cars to ride in on a track. All went well until they were asked to take over the wheel—at which point drivers had a rough time reclaiming their steering skills.

“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 of the research and research associate in the Revs Program at Stanford.

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The bumpy shift is easily explained by neuroscience; it’s the difference between implicit and explicit learning. Even though the drivers were told they’d have to take over the car, their implicit motor schools took a while to catch up.

No drivers actually steered their cars off course during the study, but the steering transition period is an important one to note when designing future self driving cars.

“If someone is designing a method for automated vehicle handover, there will need to be detailed research on that specific method,” said Harbott. “This study is tip of an iceberg.”

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