Autonomous Technology Is Shaping the Future

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Release date: 1/20/2020

Autonomous Technology Is Shaping the Future
By Louis Bedigian

AI, machine learning — anticipating the right emerging technologies to solve your mobility problems can create some major strategic headaches.

Consumer enthusiasm for autonomous vehicles may be an external pressure on your fleet capabilities before your own technology strategy is in place. Consumer early adopters are positive about autonomous vehicles after test driving. However, the Highway Loss Data Institute (HLDI) is warning that, despite the promise, the equipment might not be roadready. How do mobility managers balance the public’s expectations with vehicles they can deliver? The Society of Automotive Engineers International (SAE) offered test experiences to the public to collect feedback and data to help guide the adoption of autonomous mobility.

Managing change and ensuring the success of introducing a new technology requires smart, strategic planning. As with most tech innovations, consumers are more receptive when they have the chance to see, touch and experience the innovation firsthand. But unlike a smartphone or a new gaming platform, autonomous vehicles cannot be found at the corner electronics store.

SAE recently hosted four public demo-day events across Florida, California, and Michigan to educate the public about autonomous vehicles. The events demonstrated how these vehicles function, providing the public with an opportunity to ride in a self-driving vehicle.

Mary Moore, Strategic Marketing Director at SAE, was on the front lines gathering consumer reactions at each event. With 1,400 participants surveyed, she says that enthusiasm for the technology is very high. "What we found was 82% of the test drivers were extremely enthusiastic about self-driving vehicles," says Moore. "What was also interesting was that after the ride, you saw that enthusiasm increase to about 88%."

Moore believes that as consumers experience and understand which technologies are available today and what is coming in the near future, the fear factor or apprehension of self-driving technology will decrease. "That’s the major finding here," she adds. "People are genuinely enthusiastic about it and just want to know more. For each of those four events, we filled up all the slots because people self-volunteered within a couple of days of opening registration. There’s a clear interest [in] understanding what these vehicles are."
Autonomous options

SAE was principally focused on higher-end autonomous cars that were as advanced as Level 4, meaning they could theoretically drive themselves in most situations. While safety drivers were present in each automobile, they were only there to intervene if necessary.

However, the Highway Loss Data Institute is more concerned with looking at autonomous or assistive features that are already available to buy. A sister organization to the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety, HLDI recently gave employees the chance to borrow a Level 2-equipped vehicle as part of an internal study. "People were surprised when the technology didn’t work," said David Kidd, Senior Research Scientist at HLDI. "If the vehicle was supposed to be doing lane-centering and all of a sudden provided steering input that the driver didn’t think it needed to and it wavered in the lane, that’s where you have people getting concerned or showing a negative reaction."

Level 2 autonomy requires that drivers always keep their hands on the wheel, but that doesn’t mean the vehicle will always respond appropriately. For example, Kidd found that when grabbing the wheel, some vehicles required more force than others to override an automatic feature. This might explain the wide range of reactions he received during the study.

"It’s very person-specific," said Kidd. "Some people are, ‘I want to do it myself. I don’t trust technology.’ They’re very opposed. You have others who are early adopters who are open to using technology and found a lot of value from it. And then you have other people who maybe had a bad experience with a given technology that turned them off, and that was it."

Kidd explained, prior experiences with autonomous technology is one of the biggest challenges facing the industry. If a bad experience turned someone off so severely that they have no interest in other autonomous features, it’s time for a reboot in marketing and messaging on the benefits of the technology.

For now, few consumers will see the industry accelerating toward autonomous. Despite all the hype and headlines, only a handful of individuals have tested an autonomous vehicle of any level. Until the day comes when features are standardized, errors have been eliminated and concerns are thoroughly alleviated, autonomous vehicles are more theory than practice.

Louis Bedigian is a writer based in Detroit who has contributed to FLEETSolutions and TU-Automotive. His experience includes Senior Tech Analyst and Features Writer at Benzinga, covering a wide range of topics and tech companies.