Survey reveals damaged public perception of autonomous cars
autonomous car

Survey reveals damaged public perception of autonomous cars

A survey of 2,000 people from the UK, by enterprise information management company OpenText, reveals falling public support for autonomous driving technology.

The survey focused on the extent to which the UK public believes driverless cars will play a part in their lives over the next 15 years.

While 60 percent of UK citizens believe that driverless or autonomous cars will one day outnumber conventional vehicles, over half (52 percent) said they would would never consider buying or renting a driverless car, even at the same price as a ‘normal’ alternative. Nonetheless, that leaves 48 percent of people holding a different view.

Public perception veers off

The research revealed that 31 percent of respondents believe that the number of autonomous cars on the roads will outnumber conventional cars as early as the next 10 to 15 years.

However, this figure has dropped since a similar OpenText survey last year, which found that over twice the number of people (66 percent of respondents) thought this would be the case.

Similarly, in the 2017 survey, 24 percent of participants said that they would feel comfortable as a passenger in a driverless or autonomous car. That figure has dropped to 19 percent – a significant loss of confidence in the technology.

The survey comes in the wake of recent US research, which revealed a massive fall of consumer trust in driverless cars, following two fatalities that involved Uber and Tesla vehicles in March, both of which were running under software control.

In response to the latest UK findings, Mark Bridger, SVP of OpenText UK, said:

The results of this research highlight that we’re very much in an era of transition for automotive vehicles. The mix of confusion, fear, optimismm and inevitability in the minds of UK citizens shows that, whereas some AI-enabled technologies have moved seamlessly into our lives, more game-changing offerings like autonomous vehicles will take time to be embraced.

On the key topic of road safety – which autonomous systems are designed to improve – just 23 percent thought that the ability of driverless vehicles to obey all traffic rules will improve road safety, down from 42 percent in 2017.

Bridger suggested that carmakers should realise that while connected and autonomous vehicles stand to bring about huge benefits, they need to do more to develop the technology and reassure customers, before widespread adoption can occur.

“AI will enable automakers to analyse, adapt, and suggest solutions based on data. As autonomous vehicles become more common, the data they produce will become a new, powerful asset for organisations,” he said.

“Yet car companies need to ensure they are doing more than delivering the most innovative connected technology. Addressing consumer concerns and loss of confidence will be critical for success and take-up too. They need to ensure the technology is safe and reliable in order to instill the level of trust needed for mass adoption.”

Internet of Business says

There has demonstrably been a shift in public opinion about driverless cars. While the media is partly to blame – battery fires or accidents lend themselves to better headlines than iterative developments of smart technologies – some of the companies involved with developing driver assistance and autonomous systems haven’t helped their own cause.

For example, Tesla CEO Elon Musk recently expressed his frustration by suggesting that he planned to create a website that allowed users to vote on the credibility of articles and publications – a powerful man asking a supportive community to comment on the free press; not a good look in today’s political climate.

At the same time, Tesla has been arguing over semantics with a number of publications, including Internet of Business in direct emails, while consistently ignoring our direct and repeated questions about the name of its Autopilot system. By the company’s own (insistent) admission, it’s a driver-assistance technology, and not an autopilot. We have argued that the name is misleading, and therefore puts lives at risk when drivers trust Autopilot, and similarly named systems, to keep them safe.

It’s important to publicise the risks of autonomous driving and inform owners of vehicles that feature semi-autonomous or driver-assistance capabilities on the current limitations of the technology. It would be irresponsible not to, if reputable authorities find fault with driverless systems, or cast doubt on safety claims.

Just as some in the media are overly damning of the potential of autonomous vehicles – as they are of other technologies, such as robots, AI, and drones – so too are some early-adopters over-estimating the intelligence and level of autonomy in cars that are currently on the market.

There is a need for an accurate and balanced representation of self-driving research and driver-assisted vehicles in the media (as we at Internet of Business always endeavour to do) and in automakers’ own marketing – and product naming, for that matter.

Over the past few years, Internet of Business has published far more articles on new developments, alliances, research, positive applications, and commercial product releases in this and other areas than we have critical or pessimistic reports.

Like developers and automakers, we believe that we are heading towards a future where autonomous, connected vehicles will be safer than human drivers; 1.2 million people die on the roads every year – that’s one fatality for every 1,000 cars on the road. But we also believe that the challenges of getting to that point are more significant than the technology’s evangelists believe.

This is principally because the US, in particular, is a driving culture, which supports millions of jobs. That can’t be changed overnight. Another is that outside of city limits, driverless systems are far less reliable or viable.

It’s also important not to read more pessimism into this and other reports than is actually there. It’s not unreasonable to suggest, for example, that there will still be more conventional cars on the road than autonomous ones in the next 10 to 15 years – and further into the future than that. So the fact that over 30 percent believe the opposite remains a surprisingly high number.

Respondents may also have stated that they would never consider buying an autonomous car themselves, simply because they are happy with what they know and would prefer to remain in control of their own vehicles, and not because they believe self-driving technology isn’t, or will never be, safe.

Indeed, that is the key part of the cultural challenge. The journey towards changing the concept of private car ownership in crowded cities is a complex one, but we fully accept that it is both a necessary conversation to have and an essential change, for environmental and sustainability reasons.

The technology, its adoption, and the laws that facilitate both all have a way to go. But as they develop, so too will public opinion, and shift away from healthy caution, and towards informed interest.

Additional commentary: Chris Middleton.