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Explaining Autonomous Vehicles to Consumers

by Sam Chase
For those of us with an intense interest in self-driving cars, the appeal is self-evident and exciting. Individuals would be able to work, eat, read or just relax with a movie in their car as the vehicle drives itself.

On a wider scale, we see that the world will be changed when, as many analysts predict, traffic deaths are reduced by 90% thanks to the ability of cars to speak to one another. We marvel at, and enthusiastically use, the autonomous functions on our current vehicles like self-parking and single-lane highway autopilot. It's important to remember, however, that most American consumers are not so psyched.

Yet

An overwhelming number of consumers -- 74% -- believe that self-driving cars are "not safe," and will remain so into the foreseeable future, according to a study published by Deloitte early this year. The report is based on responses from 22,000 consumers in 17 different countries.

Even from a perspective of pure interest, the numbers are underwhelming. Only 43% of drivers were interested in "limited self-drive" features, which would include offerings like parking assist, the study found.

The reasons for this lukewarm attitude towards vehicles with autonomous features? A lack of education on the part of OEMs and other autonomous vehicle advocates is resulting in a lack of awareness on the part of consumers.

Speaking at the Center for Automotive Research Management Briefing Seminars in Traverse City, Mich., Kay Stepper, vice president of automated driving for Bosch, spoke about the imperative of showing drivers how to use the self-driving technology that already populates many automobiles and is set to be equipped on many more in the future. A significant hurdle to consumer acceptance lies in the worries that come with fully trusting a machine at high speeds, Stepper said.

"One of the concerns certainly that's out there still is lack of control, and basically trusting the machine to take over the driving task," Stepper told Automotive News. "What happens if an unforeseen situation comes across that the machine was not trained for?"

Those concerns are understandable, and that's why education is so necessary. Bosch hosts events to teach consumers about its offerings, and even has an online platform known as the Bosch Automated Mobility Academy. And while those are excellent supplementary tools, Stepper understands that the most effective teaching incorporates hands-on learning.

"To experience what it's like when it actually happens, that is a completely different matter," Stepper said of backup autonomous systems that can protect self-driving cars. "It's an important aspect to showcase and bring to consumers and the general public."

Stepper noted that with the current model of car sales, OEMs are simply unable to provide adequate direct-to-consumer teaching.

"It comes down to education in the dealership, that's where a lot of the conversation happens," he said.

Of course, that necessitates a different kind of teaching for Bosch and other manufacturers of AV technology. They need to train car dealers to be able to adequately convey the value of this tech to their buyers. Until that is the case, everyday drivers will likely remain wary of their cars' self-driving features, rendering them unused.

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