Hugh Pickens writes "Rachel Swaby reports that a self-driving car and a seasoned race-car driver recently faced off at Northern California's three-mile Thunderhill Raceway loop. The autonomous vehicle is a creation from the Center for Automotive Research at Stanford (CARS). 'We tried to model [the self-driving car] after what we've learned from the best race-car drivers,' says Chris Gerdes (who talks more about the development of autonomous cars in this TED talk). So who won? Humans, of course. But only by a few measly seconds. 'What the human drivers do is consistently feel out the limits of the car and push it just a little bit farther,' explained Gerdes. 'When you look at what the car is capable of and what humans achieve, that gap is really actually small.' Because the self-driving car reacts to the track as if it were controlled in real time by a human, a funny thing happens to passengers along for the ride. Initially, when the car accelerates to 115 miles per hour and then brakes just in time to make it around a curve, the person riding shotgun freaks out. But a second lap looks very different. Passengers tend to relax, putting their faith in the automatically spinning wheel. 'We might have a tendency to put too much confidence in it,' cautioned Gerdes. 'Watching people experience it, they'll say, oh, that was flawless.' Gerdes reaction: 'Wait wait! This was developed by a crazy professor and graduate students!'"
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