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Let Go of the Wheel, But Watch Your Back

Hands-free driving efforts expose the paradoxes of automation.
Mercedes-Benz Drive Pilot
Mercedes-Benz Drive Pilot

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By Junko Yoshida

What’s at stake?
The auto industry is promoting hands-free highway driving as the next best thing to self-driving cars. But is it, really? In the aviation industry, it’s widely known that even well-trained professional pilots experience “mode confusion,” when there is a shift in the balance of driver control versus automation. At issue here is carmakers’ rigorous system engineering. The auto industry must prove that conditional automation will not place human drivers at risk.

Leading carmakers are increasingly infatuated with “hands-free” driving, a phenomenon that reveals their fascination with automation for automation’s sake. The hands-free push is another step along the path to the automakers’ perpetually promised, but still undelivered, vision of highways teeming with fully autonomous vehicles.

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