“It’s not just about technology, dude!” – The human ingredients to make autonomous cars successful

The excitement about the automated car — aka autonomous aka self-driving car — is unstoppable. While few years ago only some industry insiders and nerds discussed about automated systems that will be part of our urban traffic tomorrow, it has now turned into a mainstream topic.

The reason is simple: The automated car has become a reality.

As usual if tech trends turn super popular, Silicon Valley is involved. Google is pushing with its fleet of cars running in and around the Silicon Valley, General Motors is stepping up its game through acquiring specialist company Cruise Automation from San Francisco and Tesla grabbed headlines, when they recently announced that their cars can run autonomously already today.

Fact is that many of today’s high-end cars have systems on board that already allow certain autonomous behaviour — such as auto-control of breaking, cruise control, lane control etc. A modern high end car can today manage to cruise at high speed and come to a complete stop before it would smash into the last car of a traffic jam.

But for truly self-driving cars the ultimate goal is not to have certain functions taken over by the computer, but to drive the car completely independently from any interaction with a ‘driver’. Many of the case studies of car makers have front seats that can be turned 180° around to face the rear seats.

The assumption is that people can talk, read or watch while the car is moving. There is no human attention needed — at least not with respect to the car’s movement.

On automotive and tech conferences there is always one dominant question — when will a fully automated car become reality on our streets, with many vehicles by different car manufacturers and of different sizes etc.? Not like the Google fleet today, which is being monitored in a lab-like testing field and which is not driving any faster than 30km/h. The answer to this question usually varies between 5 and 20 years. It seems that most people consider the technical challenge the main hurdle to be overcome – followed by legal issues such as the question, if a computer can be held responsible for creating an accident.

The electrical vehicle (EV) is in a similar state: the technology is mature (if we can agree for batteries that a range of 400 kilometres is sufficient…). There are many reasons to buy an EV today, but the overall number of EV’s does not take off so far. Consumers don’t appreciate the advantages and they consider a conventional car still more convenient.

The same is true for the autonomous car. The AAA (American Automotive Association) found in a recent study that almost 40% of all people don’t even want features in their cars as they are described above. They don’t trust technology, they believe they can drive better than a system or they just state that it’s annoying.

The same study also said that 75% of all motorists would be afraid of using a fully automated car, and only 20% would be comfortable to be chauffeured by a computer.

There are more studies that show the same picture and they all have in common that they look from a motorist’s point of view. However, one perspective hasn’t been discussed so far extensively, which will play a major role with respect to acceptance and breakthrough of fully automated vehicles — the society in general.


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