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A simulator at the Toyota Research Institute. The company is working on technologies that will assist human drivers in remaining vigilant when they are required to oversee an autonomous driving system for long stretches of time.

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Christie Hemm Klok for The New York Times

One thing about being a technology pioneer is that you get to discover problems before anyone else. So it was with Google and its self-driving car project.

Several years ago, Google thought it was a good idea to ask a number of its employees to use the company’s self-driving cars on their daily commutes to the office. The company recorded what the engineers did while the machine did the driving; what it found was, as a company spokesman put it, “egregious” behavior.

In other words, the employees were not paying attention to the road. And that’s a problem when self-driving cars are designed to hand control back to the driver in an emergency.

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The results of Google’s experiment unnerved the autonomous-car developers enough that they went back to the drawing board. Instead of trying to manage the handoff between machine and man, Google decided to keep at it until the company had a vehicle that could handle every bit of the driving — so much so, in fact, that later prototypes didn’t even have steering wheels or brake pedals.

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