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Autonomous

Consumers Wary of Self-Driving Vehicles but See Potential

by Nathan Eddy
Autonomous vehicle technology is now being tested on public streets, with new mobility services and business models, such as ride-hailing, ride-sharing and shuttle services entering the market.

However, security and safety concerns persist among the public, which led to the UK's MERGE Greenwich organization to survey 324 people online and conduct face-to-face focus groups to asses their fears and desires when it comes to self-driving vehicle technology. (For its part, MERGE is looking to create a model for an autonomous, ride-sharing service.)

The results of the focus group indicated design would play a major role in reassuring passengers in self-driving vehicles, and the report recommended designing the vehicle with the ability for people outside to look in -- think lots of windows -- and this, in turn, would increase passengers' perception of safety.

One particularly interesting finding: while survey and focus group participants were not immediately aware of the benefits of AV technology, there was a widespread opinion that there is a cost benefit of deploying self-driving vehicles in place of conventional driven ones.

Respondents under the age of 35 were most likely to use an AV as soon as they are able to -- 39% -- with a smaller group intending to wait until it becomes commonplace -- 25%.

Among those aged 55 and older, 38% reported that they intend to wait until it becomes commonplace, while more than a quarter -- 28% -- told the researchers that they would use an AV as soon as possible.

Respondents were asked to consider an AV service not only for individual trips but also in a ride-share mode. The study found that while AV technology was the aspect of the service which potential customers were most excited about, respondents were hesitant about sharing a journey with strangers.

While the vast majority -- 85% -- of survey respondents indicated willingness to use an AV in the future, less than half -- 46% -- were willing to use a ride-sharing service for various types of journeys once or twice a week.

This willingness further dropped -- to 26% -- when respondents considered using a ride-sharing service three or more times a week.

The majority of people thought they would eventually use AVs, driven by an assumption that regulators would require rigorous testing before being deployed for commercial use.

However, concerns relating to privacy and security deterred about 15% of participants from showing a willingness to adopt ride-sharing.

Breaking the findings down by gender, men were more likely than women to state that they would travel in an AV "as soon as possible," while women were more likely than men to state that they would travel in an AV "when it becomes commonplace."

When asked about the importance of various journey aspects when considering their transport choices, the three most important decision-making factors were time, convenience and safety.

Compared to other survey respondents, private car users were more likely to adopt an AV ride-sharing service, with 28% of respondents who use a private car for leisure and 18% who use one for commuting indicated a high likelihood.

In addition, a small number -- only about 6% -- of respondents who use taxis more than once a week indicated they would be highly likely to switch to an AV ride-sharing service.

The report noted this small group would likely be early adopters of an AV ride-sharing service and good targets for running pilots in the run-up to a wide-spread publicly available service.

Nathan Eddy is a filmmaker and freelance journalist based in Berlin. Follow him on Twitter @dropdeaded209_LR.

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