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Autonomous driving technology must overcome consumer skepticism and regulations for widespread adoption levels

Autonomous driving technology must overcome consumer skepticism and regulations for widespread adoption levels (Photo: Twitter/TUAutomotive)

The topic of autonomous driving has been met with intense debates – the unbridled enthusiasm shown by technology companies and incumbent automakers versus the widespread consumer skepticism of the benefits of self-driving technology over human drivers. This evident seesawing of perspectives has led industry stakeholders to now be calculative on their push towards vehicle automation, setting forth more achievable and realistic goals on the autonomous technology roadmap.

TU-Automotive, the world’s largest exhibition for future automotive technology, surveyed more than 100 global leaders in the automotive and transportation space. Of those, 37 percent of respondents listed consumer skepticism and their fear of autonomous vehicles as the primary obstacle to mainstream adoption of self-driving vehicles. Furthermore, 24 percent of respondents named government and industry regulations to be the main issue that curbed adoption.

FreightWaves spoke with Kelly Grant, director of TU-Automotive, to discuss the factors affecting widespread adoption of autonomous vehicles, and the measures the transportation industry needs to look at to improve acceptance amongst consumers.

“Consumers’ skepticism has been fueled by high-profile fatal accidents involving Tesla and Uber vehicles in the U.S. That said, most automakers we have talked to say that fear of robot-driven vehicles will abate with the increased use of advanced driver-assistance systems (ADAS) and higher level autonomous features in the cars they use,” said Grant. “Things like emergency brake assist (EBA) and adaptive cruise control are now features on which consumers have become reliant, and this sets them on the path to accepting more driverless technology.”

Government regulations are also a concern, as lawmakers will have to play the balancing act of addressing genuine public anxiety on automation while also making sure that it does not quash innovation in the transportation sector. However, Grant noted that governments do face a pervasive pressure to improve safety on the roads, and that industry leaders would help resolve this over time when the technology is considered safe for commercial deployment.

One of the key issues hampering self-driving vehicle prospects is the morality behind making choices on the road when faced with a no-win collision scenario. Imagine, for instance, an autonomous car cruising along a road where it encounters an imminent head-on collision, and should it look to swerve left, would hit a queue of nuns on the pedestrian walkway, or if it swerved to the right would drop off of a 1,000-foot cliff. Companies behind the development of autonomous driving technology have yet to solve for the moral aspect of tackling such a dilemma.

However, Grant mentioned auto industry commentators do not see a future where autonomous vehicles will have to make such moral choices in an accident. “Advanced driving courses teach that a human driver should never swerve to avoid an accident, thereby risking possibly worse collateral damage, unless there is a clear escape path,” said Grant. “In this way, a robot vehicle observing an imminent head-on collision would be programmed to behave in the same way as an advanced human driver, and choose the head-on collision as an inevitable consequence, trusting to its own advanced safety systems to mitigate the impact.”

Another concern for adoption is something that has already found relevance within the connected vehicles segment – auto cybersecurity. “Ten percent of industry leaders surveyed listed cybersecurity or network connectivity as a threat. The case to answer in a vehicle-to-everything world is the increase in the number of attack surfaces available. For example, every traffic light and every road sign will be hooked up to the IoT, posing a significant risk of being hacked,” said Grant.

“However, with the biggest automakers and regulators in the European Union and the United States favoring DSRC wi-fi V2X systems over 5G, the risks of attack could be negligible with current malware technology able to offset the threats,” she continued.

All this being said, the adoption of self-driving technology in the immediate future will not be completely autonomous. Vehicles will require surveillance by a remotely positioned human controller who can assist the vehicle when it maneuvers complex driving environments. Most of the automakers do not see widespread use of SAE Level 5 autonomous vehicles before 2050. The initial reception to the technology would possibly be in the public transportation sector, with 49 percent of TU-Automotive’s survey participants echoing that sentiment, and 45 percent listing ride-sharing as a top possibility as well.

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