How Can People Safely Take Control From a Self-Driving Car?

One of the challenges which needs to be overcome before autonomous automobiles can become a reality is the protocol for handing control over between car and designated driver. Who should be the designated driver in case of an emergency, and how the person should interact with the vehicle, are thorny questions which are still far from being overcome.

Various news services have this week been reporting the results of recent research into these issues by Stanford University’s Center for Design Research.

The Stanford team have disseminated several interesting findings such as the fact that it appears that people require a minimum of 5 seconds to take over the control of the moving vehicle if they are paying at least some attention to the road.

Other observations include the need to develop approaches for reducing the human startle reaction when people are caught by surprise by a  vehicle action, and the need to develop methods for informing people of the degree of trust which they should place in the automation. How much a person can sit back and relax is not currently obvious in existing self-driving prototypes.

Finally, one obvious practical issue is the need to provide an effective means for alerting the person in the driver’s seat of the need to take over control. Peliminary findings suggest that the car should appeal to several senses by providing a combination of visual warnings, spoken instructions and possibly also physical stimulation such as a vibrating seat.