How Robo-Cars handle the frustratingly Human Act of Merging

No, self-driving cars aren’t here yet. But they are roaming a few select sections of American road. Waymo just launched a limited service in metro Phoenix (albeit with a safety driver behind the wheel); General Motors’ Cruise is testingin San Francisco; Ford is noodling around Florida; Auroraand Argo (which is closely aligned with Ford) swing through the hills of Pittsburgh.

And in many of these places, you’ll hear the same complaint from the humans sharing those roads: Man, these robots aren’t great at merging. I heard it during a recent trip to Phoenix, and reporters have found other (human) drivers whinging about too-timid AVs.

They’re not wrong: Self-driving cars do find merges challenging. In fact, it’s a problem that points to one of the harshest realities facing everyone teaching computers to drive themselves: For the foreseeable future, they’ll be sharing the road with human drivers. Humans who tend to favor flexible, communication-based interaction over following rules by the letter. Humans who can be capricious and inattentive. Humans who can be jerks, humans who can be generous.