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Google explains why it dropped steering wheel from self-driving cars

The head of Google X has claimed humans are “not a reliable backup” for its self-driving cars, during a talk at the SXSW festival on Tuesday.

Astro Teller explained the company’s decision to remove the steering wheel and brakes from the early prototypes of its ‘driverless’ vehicles.

Google’s vision was short lived thanks to the California department of motor vehicles, which quickly updated its rules to ensure Google must reintroduce both control methods in future models, enabling drivers to take “immediate manual control.”

However, Teller said once motorists had learned to trust the on board computer during the tests, they completely lost focus and were less able to take responsible control of the car in the event of a system failure.

He executive said (via Engadget) drivers already partook in distracting activities like texting when taking full control of the vehicle, but said that behaviour becomes even more questionable when the driving responsibilities were totally handed over.

During the firm’s extended testing with Google employees outside of Google X, he said drivers would immediately check out as soon as the car became autonomous. Teller said the results “were not pretty.”

Indeed, one can only imagine it would be like comfortably sitting in the back seat of a taxi and being asked to man the controls in the event of an emergency.

Read more: Driverless cars: What you need to know

Meanwhile on Tuesday, Tesla CEO Elon Musk has weighed in on the inevitability of driverless cars.

“You can’t have a person driving a two-ton death machine,” he said when quizzed about a future when driving could be deemed too dangerous.

Musk said Tesla plans on becoming a global pioneer in the field, claiming: “We know what to do, and we’ll be there in a few years.”

He also remarked on how the current fleet of Tesla motors are pushing the boundaries of autonomy with recent over the air updates.

He said: ”It’s already getting smarter and smarter even with the current hardware. We can make huge progress in autonomy already. Autonomy is about what level of reliability and safety do you want.”

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