This week The New Yorker offers a rare look at the engineers leading Google's self-driving car project, focusing on engineer Anthony Levandowski's decades-long quest to master the subtle demands of vehicular automation. His obsession began with a series of ill-fated DARPA challenges (including more than a few crashed cars) to Google's current self-driving project, which has now logged more than half a million miles on the road.

For Levandowski, the quest has a particularly personal charge: his girlfriend, nine months pregnant, was involved in a pileup on the Golden Gate Bridge three years ago. Although both the driver and the pregnancy emerged unscathed, the event was understandably traumatic, and Levandowski maintains it would not have happened in a world of self-driving cars. For him, the sooner he can get the cars on the road, the better. "What we’ve done so far is cool; it’s scientifically interesting," Levandowski told The New Yorker, "but it hasn’t changed people’s lives."