Autonomous Cars Make People Uncomfortable - What Can Manufacturers Do About It?
There’s nothing that will convince me that the first wave of autonomous taxis will be anything other than mobile biohazards, providing a slightly less convenient solution to paying a man to let you ride in the back of his Toyota Camry for a few miles. However, I will give them a shot once they arrive — mainly out of curiosity, which puts me in the minority.
Gartner Inc., an American research and advisory firm that works specifically within the realm of advanced technologies, recently completed a survey where over half of its respondents said there was no way in hell they’d get into the back of a fully autonomous vehicle. Its findings echo an American-based MIT study from earlier this year, as well as a global survey from Deloitte. The consensus: most of the population doesn’t feel particularly good about self-driving cars.
Not to be a defender of unproven technology, but there’s also nothing stopping a human cab driver from driving you to the wrong destination before trying to murder you with an axe. It doesn’t happen often, but it is a possibility. Likewise, autonomous cabs pose some element of risk no matter how good a job manufacturers do with those early models. But you’re not likely to be the occupant of the one that does goes haywire. It’s a problem of perception more than anything else.
“The top concern for passengers is that the vehicle will get confused in complex situations,” Gartner consultant Mike Ramsey said in an interview with Automotive News. “The big challenge for automakers is that they’ll have to create an interface that allows people to have control.”
The Gartner survey framed the hypothetical vehicle for respondents as a Level 5 autonomous taxi with no driver, steering wheel, brake pedal, or accelerator. This was an important factor, as the perceived lack of control was faulted as the primary cause for the public’s skittishness.
Customers want the option of control, even in something that’s designed to not give them any. Visteon says the key to alleviating stress is to give consumers enough information and agency to feel involved without overwhelming them. A visual interface that showed the car’s systems functioning properly would go a long way — even if passengers don’t fully understand them.
“You want to take the tension and nervousness out of the experience,”said Tim Yerdon, Visteon’s global marketing director.
Another chief concern is the level of control customers would be allowed to have. Practically every survey indicates that drivers who have cars equipped with some level of autonomy are more willing to trust a fully self-driving vehicle. While the Gartner survey only reached out to 1,500 people in the U.S. and Germany, Deloitte contacted 22,000 respondents worldwide. Both indicate that the best approach to easing fears is the gradual implementation of autonomy and in-car controls that would allow passengers to change their destination or order the car to pull over.
Manufacturers should pay careful attention to these studies and use them as a framework for field testing, especially those that want to ditch things like steering wheels and brake pedals (ahem, Ford). We’ve seen no survey, as of yet, that doesn’t indicate at least 55 to 75 percent of their respective samples having serious reservations about self-driving cars. Those numbers weren’t helped when you start hypothetically taking away people’s ability to regain control of the situation when they choose.
[Image: Ford Motor Company]
Consumer advocate tracking industry trends, regulation, and the bitter-sweet nature of modern automotive tech. Research focused and gut driven.
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