Driverless cars make people nervous. They conjure up images of the runaway train and that bus in the film Speed. We are not in control.
The idea seems so much like Science Fiction that we can’t believe that we have already mastered the technology to make it happen, safely. When considering their reality, we feel literally out of control.However, 100 billion dollars and over a decade of research later - this is happening. General Motors hope to launch a fleet later this year, with Ford aiming to do so by 2021. Waymo LLC have been running a small fleet since late 2018.
But are the public ready?
People need to get used to seeing these driverless vehicles on the road, currently only identifiable by the hardware stacks on the roof. Most of these vehicles are without steering wheels or pedals. The companies creating these machines now face an uphill struggle to persuade the public that they are safe.
After spending years perfecting the autonomous vehicle technology – they now need to improve the ‘user experience’ so that people will feel confident enough to use them. There is no point in making something that the majority of consumers refuse to use.
Experts say that education is the key to counter these fears. The public need to be taught exactly how these vehicles work and how they safely navigate the environment around them. Just because they aren’t under our human control, it doesn’t make them out of control.
But they need to listen to what makes the public feel safe to make this happen. General Motors recently said that its driverless taxi service may need to have steering wheels and pedals to help the passengers feel safer. At least initially.
Here in the UK, a study by Intelligent Car Leasing has revealed a lack of trust in these vehicles. 61% of the 1750 Brits aged between 18-65+ said they would feel safest in a traditional ‘human drive’ vehicle. The main reason for this was that they would ‘rather be in control.’ Just 1 in 6 said they would feel safer in a self-driving vehicle.
A recent OpenText survey found that 52% said that they would not buy a driverless car. 62% said that they wouldn’t be comfortable sharing the road with these vehicles. And although Google (and other tech companies) have invested heavily in this technology, 62.6% are more likely to trust a driverless car made by an automotive company. And just 6% said they would trust a taxi company to provide the technology. This lack of trust may have, in part, been influenced by the death of a pedestrian in Tempe, Arizona last year after being hit by a driverless test car. Even though Uber were ruled ‘not liable’ – it will take more than this to change the minds of the public horrified by this story that appears to confirm their worst fears.
Our cars have already taken on a certain autonomy, but ultimately we, the human, are still in charge. Over the next 20 years, the average car is gradually going to become even more autonomous – the aim being to help prevent more accidents by human error.
The latest BMW Series 5 model has forward-facing sensors that can assess whether the car is about to hit something, and it then applies the brakes accordingly. This is considered more effective than if a panicked human driver were to assess the situation and attempt to slam on the brakes in time.
So, it looks like these driverless vehicles will become part of our lives in the near future; whether we embrace them wholeheartedly as a new improved technology, tentatively dip our toe in with the odd driverless taxi, or hide under the covers and pretend it isn’t happening – is up to us and the education that we receive from those who have created them.
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