MOUNTAIN VIEW, California — Google's self-driving cars have logged nearly three-quarters of a million miles out on public roads. Now the Safety Drivers, Google employees who go out in the cars and take notes on how they're doing, have decided that the cars will work best and be safest if they take on a little more human-style assertiveness.
A Google spokeswoman told Edmunds that Safety Drivers have repeatedly seen instances where it's actually safer for the car to speed up to change lanes, rather than maintain or slow speed while waiting for an opening.
She also said the Google employees have noticed the cars do best at a four-way stop when they physically indicate their intentions by nosing forward, not by using a more computer-like style, such as waiting for other cars to stop for a prescribed number of seconds.
Priscilla Knox, Google Safety Driver, demonstrated the car's behavior out on the road in a video, saying it's important for the car "to drive in a naturalistic way. Because when it's natural and the car abides by social norms on the road, it's also safer."
"We provide the detailed feedback," she said, so engineers can "fine tune the whole driving experience." Google's spokeswoman told Edmunds that it's too soon for the company to provide details on how the cars will be technically adapted to this new understanding.
For several years, self-driving cars have fascinated — and freaked out — everyone who thinks about our automotive future.
In May, Google unveiled its prototype of a consumer self-driving car that has no steering wheel or pedals, either accelerator or brake. This car is "designed from the ground up for self-driving," Google said. "Our software and sensors do all the work."
Edmunds says: If we're all going to be riding in autonomous cars soon, at least they'll behave a little more the way we would ourselves.