An Autonomous Future Series: For automobile manufacturers, suppliers, and technology companies, a bold new future has arrived. Technology that adds autonomous features to the driving experience are now available on vehicles by all major manufacturers – inching us ever closer to the day where the driver is a passive, rather than active, participant in the driving experience. To take a closer look at what’s to come, automotive research experts from Market Strategies-Morpace will share their insights in an occasional blog series titled “An Autonomous Future.” In this blog, Dania Rich-Spencer and Stephan Schroeder, Automotive Vice Presidents at Market Strategies-Morpace, share insights about why a consumer panel of millennials do not trust self-driving vehicles and, therefore, would not step foot inside one.
To say that autonomous vehicle technology is top of mind for auto manufacturers is a slight understatement.
Across the globe, carmakers are doubling and tripling down on features that will take the power of the driving experience out of the often-unpredictable hands of the car owner, and into the relative algorithmic safety of computer-driven vehicular tech. According to a Brookings Institute study, manufacturers spent more than $80 billion on engineering AV technologies for their cars in 2017. In fact, a majority of this year’s models have incorporated one or more autonomous features — things like lane departure warnings, automated braking, and radar-enabled cruise control.
Framed against this reality, it would be easy to expect that a hands-off future is all but assured. In fact, at the recent ADAS & Autonomous Vehicle USA Conference, engineers spent two days talking about continued refinements that will assure the public’s safety. During one session, in fact, engineers discussed with pride spending considerable resources to understand how many times a pedestrian looks before entering a crosswalk.
So it was surprising — indeed, shocking — to observe these same engineers shift in their seats during a consumer panel discussion facilitated by Suzanne Miller of Morpace on Day 2. During the discussion, five millennials — without hesitating — answered “No” to the most fundamental of questions: “Would you step foot inside an autonomous vehicle?
Though the response was for some a harsh reminder of the consumer challenges that still have to be solved, the question of trust is not a new one — in fact, a poll released earlier this year by the American Automobile Association found that 73 percent of those surveyed are “too afraid” to enter a self-driving car. This is up 10 percentage points from the year prior, and underscores the biggest hurdle facing AV and ADAS tech — one that cannot simply be funded or engineered away.
As we listened to the panelists — varying in background, gender, nationality, and age — we were able to pinpoint:
The four most pervasive reasons why
there is skepticism and fear of self-driving vehicles
Trust and Safety
Topping the list is the overall belief that humans remain best suited to command the driving experience. They readily cite the isolated instances of accidents involving self-driving cars among the top reasons. In other transportation experiences where much of the process is automated – flying aboard a modern commercial jetliner, for instance – there always is a human who will reassuredly step in, they say, if something goes wrong.
The amount of engineering that underlies the self-driving experience, in itself, should be reassuring to the public. In fact, one audience member, in a fit of frustration, asked rhetorically why these people would “rather trust an Uber driver than a well-engineered AV?” Interestingly, panelists cited the number of high ratings and successfully completed journeys on an Uber driver’s profile as affirmation that they know what they’re doing. Something that is not readily available for autonomous vehicles today but may be required to convince consumers of its safety in the future.
It was compelling to hear this from a group that has developed a “learned trust” – a sort of symbiotic relationship – with existing driving tech. This is a public that would not commute beyond their neighborhood without some form of a moving map (trusting its computer-intoned directions implicitly as they are uttered from the dash or smartphone). But it’s a group that has also learned how flawed technology can be – how imperfect it is at times. They have coped with taking their new $1,000 iPhone out of the box, only to find it doesn’t work. They deal with daily, inexplicable disruptions of their WiFi service. Because of these experiences, they have learned what the limits are to technology. As a result, they have developed a skepticism – and in some cases even fear – that only seems to grow with every new announcement about self-driving vehicles. This underscores the growing need to build consumer trust with the new technology as autonomous vehicles are continually developed.
Millennials have had a love-hate relationship with the technology that guides their lives. On the one hand, dramatic improvements in tech have given this group more powerful tools and connectedness than ever; on the other, the personal information input into these devices and sites has been under assault. The specter that AV technology will further abridge someone’s privacy appears to be a deal breaker for those who would rather cruise in relative anonymity.
Hackers and Bad Actors
All the engineering in the world, said these panelists, cannot correct for the mental deficiencies of those who wish to illegally subvert the technology, or use it for harm. Fears include hacking of cars to disable features, or to use them for nefarious purposes; or some unstable driver inside an AV who uses it to wreak havoc on an unsuspecting public.
Panelists expressed grave concerns about who would ultimately be held responsible for accidents involving AV tech. If I was not steering the car when it hit that pedestrian, why should I be held responsible for the damage inflicted? Sorting out the chain of liability – whether the mobility provider should offer some sort of supplemental insurance for its self-driving technology, or whether the public, through the act of purchasing or renting the car, should remain the liable party – was a clear precondition of their risk/reward decision about this new technology.
Given what we learned from a group of smart, articulate millennials, AV manufacturers will need to deliberately guide consumers down the path to a world of autonomous vehicles – on consumers’ terms. Challenges associated with this include: 1) understanding exactly what these terms are, and 2) responding in an empathic manner to meet consumers’ expectations. Conquering these challenges may well represent the Holy Grail between reticence and broad adoption.
At Market Strategies–Morpace, we are working with vehicle manufacturers and technology companies to better understand the human factors that will ultimately lead to a future of new, safe, and widely accepted modes of transportation. If we can be of service, please contact us.