According to Kay Stepper, the head of automating unit and vice president at Bosch, the US will be technologically ready to effectively host driverless cars by the end of this decade. Tech giants and motor companies are already testing their prototypes, readying for production and subsequent rollout over the next couple of years. Google, for instance, is progressively advancing through the test stages and is planning to boost its fleet with 100 Chrysler Pacifica minivans over the next couple of months. This, according to them, should help people get acquainted to autonomous vehicles by 2020, a market which the Boston Consulting Group predicts will hit $42 billion 5 years later- and consequently account for 25% of all vehicles globally by 2035.
Going by these indications, it’s pretty obvious that corporations are very excited about the impending revolution. Strangely, however, it just ends there. The excitement is not reflected by consumers, who, by and large, are exceedingly skeptical about the future of autonomous vehicles in the US. Corporations are eager to make profits in the name of safer roads, but Americans are simply not ready for driverless cars on their roads.
The Numbers Against Autonomous Vehicles
In a bid to gauge market perception on autonomous vehicles, Kelly Blue Book surveyed 2,076 people, most of whom are drivers. Surprisingly, and rather alarmingly, an overwhelming 75% of them felt that they would never purchase an autonomous vehicle. They prefer sticking to their wheels and retaining full vehicle control. As a matter of fact, according to a study conducted by EY, only 4 out of every 10 drivers are open to engaging autopilot, a feature that will soon be rolling out with Cadillac, Mercedes, Volvo and Audi.
So, why are Americans overwhelmingly against autonomous vehicles, which- as it happens- come with high safety standards?
EY’s executive director of automotive and transportation mobility, Kristin Schondorf, believes that the whole idea of self-driven vehicles is currently overwhelming for most people. She further indicates that this feeling is particularly widespread among the older generation of drivers, who are particularly used to the standard mode of driving.
True to her words, J.D Power established that acceptance levels increase with decrease in age, through a study that profiled drivers according to their age sets. The youngest, Generation Y and Z, have acceptance levels as high as 56 and 55 percent respectively, while Generation X stands at 41%- and contrastingly, only 23% among baby boomers.
The Fear Factor
So, far, the biggest hindrance to embracing the technology is fear. Most consumers, particularly ones who have experienced computer system failures even in unrelated fields, find it incredibly hard to grant a computer full control on the road. A simple glitch could be fatal, and possibly even cause multiple deaths. It’s only sensible for most people to avoid falling victims, and subsequently being used as reference statistics to improve future autonomous car models. They prefer sticking to the less convenient, but much safer option of human-driven vehicles.
Possible Mitigation Measures
The best approach in reversing this fear and boosting acceptance levels, of course, is persistent testing among the consumer population. Unfortunately, that’s hard to come by right now, considering the fact that all fully autonomous vehicles are only handled by engineers. Consumers, on the other hand, have only been exposed to semi-autonomous features like parking assist, adaptive cruise control, traction control and automatic brakes. These features are particularly synonymous with luxury car makers like Audi and Mercedes, who are planning to include traffic-jam assist as part of the luxury package in the near future.
Another approach that would be fairly effectual, is introducing an option that reverts to human control in case of `an emergency. That alone, according to EY, should substantially boost the acceptance levels to 66%. Interestingly, and rather ironically, safety regulators claim that most road crashes are triggered by human error. So, to save lives, it should only be reasonable to retain computer control in potentially fatal situations.
Kristin Schondorf feels that overriding the computer in case of an emergency could be dangerous, considering the fact that autonomous vehicles come with multiple sensors and cameras, all optimized for detecting and maneuvering through stressful situations- most of which are beyond human control. Taking control from the computer by itself exposes you to additional risks, and could potentially be a driver’s last decision.
Kay Stepper, on the other hand, also weighed in on this by stressing on the importance of installing multiple screens and audio systems, to interact with and help users comprehend all the computer decisions. That would, as a result, keep drivers alert and aware of their routes, vehicle maneuver, and any other data relevant to navigation.
Even with these proposed features, only time will tell if Americans ultimately embrace or ignore the era of autonomous vehicles.