Autonomous Cars Make People Uncomfortable - What Can Manufacturers Do About It?

Matt Posky
by Matt Posky
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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]

Matt Posky
Matt Posky

Consumer advocate tracking industry trends, regulation, and the bitter-sweet nature of modern automotive tech. Research focused and gut driven.

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  • Voyager Voyager on Sep 20, 2017

    "Mobile bio hazards" as in people sweating profusely and breaking wind as anxiety levels rise? I fully agree. But there's an element that is structurally being ignored by the industry, incl. Elon Musk. You don't feel particularly comfortable having a car auto-pilot itself that is as wide as you are tall and in which you tend t lose any sense of the car's outer dimensions. There's a reason why Google (Waymo) started out with the compact two-seater in which there's excellent visibility, that was introduced 4-5 years ago.

  • Yankinwaoz Yankinwaoz on Sep 20, 2017

    A solution was presented in the film Total Recall. Remember Johnny Cab? That was a self driving car that had an animatronic replica of a human cab driver as the user interface for the passenger.

  • Carsofchaos The bike lanes aren't even close to carrying "more than the car lanes replaced". You clearly don't drive in Midtown Manhattan on a daily like I do.
  • Carsofchaos The problem with congestion, dear friends, is not the cars per se. I drive into the city daily and the problem is this:Your average street in the area used to be 4 lanes. Now it is a bus lane, a bike lane (now you're down to two lanes), then you have delivery trucks double parking, along with the Uber and Lyft drivers also double parking. So your 4 lane avenue is now a 1.5 lane avenue. Do you now see the problem? Congestion pricing will fix none of these things....what it WILL do is fund persion plans.
  • FreedMike Many F150s I encounter are autonomously driven...and by that I mean they're driving themselves because the dips**ts at the wheel are paying attention to everything else but the road.
  • Tassos A "small car", TIM????????????This is the GLE. Have you even ever SEEN the huge thing at a dealer's??? NOT even the GLC,and Merc has TWO classes even SMALLER than the C (The A and the B, you guessed it? You must be a GENIUS!).THe E is a "MIDSIZED" crossover, NOT A SMALL ONE BY ANY STRETCH OF THE IMAGINATION, oh CLUELESS one.I AM SICK AND TIRED OF THE NONSENSE you post here every god damned day.And I BET you will never even CORRECT your NONSENSE, much less APOLOGIZE for your cluelessness and unprofessionalism.
  • Stuki Moi "How do you take a small crossover and make it better?Slap the AMG badge on it and give it the AMG treatment."No, you don't.In fact, that is specifically what you do NOT do.Huge, frail wheels, and postage stamp sidewalls, do nothing but make overly tall cuvs tramline and judder. And render them even less useful across the few surfaces where they could conceivably have an advantage over more properly dimensioned cars. And: Small cuvs have pitiful enough fuel range as it is, even with more sensible engines.Instead, to make a small CUV better, you 1)make it a lower slung wagon. And only then give it the AMG treatment. AMG'ing, makes sense for the E class. And these days with larger cars, even the C class. For the S class, it never made sense, aside from the sheer aural visceralness of the last NA V8. The E-class is the center of AMG. Even the C-class, rarely touches the M3.Or 2) You give it the Raptor/Baja treatment. Massive, hypersophisticated suspension travel allowing landing meaningful jumps. As well as driving up and down wide enough stairs if desired. That's a kind of driving for which a taller stance, and IFS/IRS, makes sense.Attempting to turn a CUV into some sort of a laptime wonder, makes about as much sense as putting an America's Cup rig atop a ten deck cruiseship.