Self-driving Cars as the future of mobility – do we want that?

What once only exist­ed in the imag­i­na­tions of sci­ence fic­tion writ­ers is now being devel­oped and test­ed by car­mak­ers in lab­o­ra­to­ries and on road­ways across the globe.(1)

But all of this ‘real­i­ty’ might be a bit too much for many of us.(2)

It lies in the very nature of Acad­e­mia Supe­ri­or to ‘think ahead’, thus not tak­ing the sta­tus quo for grant­ed. Con­se­quent­ly, as active fol­low­ers of the think tank’s work, we may have all read about today’s heav­i­ly-used buzz word ‘rad­i­cal inno­va­tion’ – it even coins the head­line of one of the lat­est blog posts. In short, a rad­i­cal inno­va­tion can be described as hav­ing the poten­tial to dis­rupt entire indus­tries. The degree of pos­si­ble dis­rup­tion depends on the degree of actu­al new­ness. Is it only new for the enter­prise who invent­ed the prod­uct? New for the entire indus­try? Or is it even new for the world? Very rarely are inno­va­tions char­ac­ter­ized to belong to the lat­ter cat­e­go­ry. How­ev­er, with regards to self-dri­ving cars, “the poten­tial is lim­it­ed only by one’s imag­i­na­tion”.(3)

Self-dri­ving cars could solve the mobil­i­ty prob­lems of elder and dis­abled peo­ple. They would allow com­muters to spend their time answer­ing emails, watch­ing movies or even allow them to sleep. They could trans­port chil­dren to their soc­cer prac­tice with­out being a bur­den to the parent’s sched­ules. They could save fuel, find park­ing spots for them­selves and even pre­vent acci­dents sav­ing thou­sands of lives every year. The pos­si­bil­i­ties are numer­ous and sub­stan­tial.

But what does the pub­lic think about self-dri­ving cars? Does the ordi­nary dri­ver even want the car to take over con­trol? Could there be con­cerns? The state of research about the pub­lic opin­ion towards autonomous dri­ving is only in its infan­cy. World­wide, only a hand­ful of stud­ies touched upon this cru­cial aspect and even those stud­ies only tack­led small parts of the top­ic lack­ing the ‘big pic­ture’. Con­se­quent­ly, the research paper this blog entry is derived from, cov­ers exact­ly those issues by answer­ing four main ques­tions:

  1. Do peo­ple show resis­tance towards self-dri­ving cars?
  2. What ben­e­fits would peo­ple val­ue the most?
  3. What are the under­ly­ing rea­sons for peo­ples’ con­cerns? 
  4. What can be done to over­come this resis­tance? See the whole mas­ter the­sis here.

After a thor­ough lit­er­a­ture review cov­er­ing 130 sources, an empir­i­cal study using an online ques­tion­naire was devel­oped. This study has been com­plet­ed by near­ly 500 respon­dents from over 30 coun­tries. The results are as fol­lows:

Indeed, it is found that peo­ple do face bar­ri­ers when hand­ing over con­trol to tech­nol­o­gy. Fur­ther, the major­i­ty is unwill­ing to pay for self-dri­ving fea­tures. How­ev­er, there are con­sid­er­able dif­fer­ences between sub-sets of the pop­u­la­tion. Young peo­ple, men, and indi­vid­u­als own­ing cars with advanced auto­mat­ed fea­tures tend to be more open towards dri­ver­less cars than old­er peo­ple or women. Despite resis­tance, the pub­lic would high­ly val­ue a num­ber of entailed ben­e­fits of the new tech­nol­o­gy such as the pos­si­bil­i­ty to engage in oth­er things than dri­ving while rid­ing in the car. It is thus assessed why peo­ple nev­er­the­less show bar­ri­ers. While there seems to be a range of con­cerns, the most pro­nounced ones are found to be the unwill­ing­ness to give up con­trol to the machine, lia­bil­i­ty con­sid­er­a­tions, and the fear of hack­ers and tech­ni­cal error. Final­ly, strate­gic impli­ca­tions found to be promis­ing include edu­cat­ing users about the func­tion­ing of the tech­nol­o­gy, giv­ing them the oppor­tu­ni­ty to engage in test dri­ves, offer­ing the pos­si­bil­i­ty (but not the oblig­a­tion) to engage in auto­mat­ed dri­ving, and intro­duc­ing self-dri­ve tech­nol­o­gy grad­u­al­ly.

Ulti­mate­ly, these con­sid­er­a­tions lead to the ques­tions whether and, if so, when self-dri­ving cars will mate­ri­al­ize and be intro­duced to the mass mar­ket. It can be con­clud­ed that “ana­lysts dif­fer on when these autonomous cars will be intro­duced, but few believe dri­ver­less cars in some form are not the wave of the future.”(4)

Still, “as long as user mind­sets are focused on con­tem­po­rary trans­porta­tion modes, the intro­duc­tion of new inno­v­a­tive trans­porta­tion seems to be a Her­culean task.”(5)  How­ev­er, this is not sur­pris­ing as the exe­cut­ed link­age of psy­chol­o­gy and inno­va­tion lit­er­a­ture has yield­ed the insight that rad­i­cal inno­va­tions have always encoun­tered resis­tance, or at least doubt, by the major­i­ty of users. Even the car itself has orig­i­nal­ly been termed a ‘death machine’ that should be banned from the roads.

The intro­duc­tion of self-dri­ving fea­tures is con­sid­ered more promis­ing when done step­wise. While the pub­lic is still doubt­ful about ful­ly self-dri­ving vehi­cles, spin­ning off devel­oped self-dri­ving fea­tures grad­u­al­ly and imple­ment­ing those in man­u­al­ly-oper­at­ed cars is seen as an oppor­tu­ni­ty to increase safe­ty in car trans­porta­tion already today and, as a side effect, get­ting dri­vers accus­tomed to self-dri­ve tech­nol­o­gy.(6)

Ulti­mate­ly, both the devel­op­ment of self-dri­ve tech­nol­o­gy as well as the tra­jec­to­ry of adop­tion (user accep­tance) will depend on mul­ti­ple addi­tion­al fac­tors such as “reg­u­la­to­ry action, busi­ness cycles, tech­no­log­i­cal advance­ments, and mar­ket dynam­ics”.(7)

Nev­er­the­less, “the argu­ment of when, or even if, we will ever be ready [for ful­ly self-dri­ving cars] is moot, as the ben­e­fits from the jour­ney itself is worth it regard­less the answer.”(8)

The major dia­grams tak­en from the research paper have been includ­ed to this blog post. For fur­ther details, and, most impor­tant­ly, thor­ough dis­cus­sions and inter­pre­ta­tions of these results, please con­sult the research paper itself.

Of course, you are also more than wel­come to com­ment on this blog post or to reach the author per­son­al­ly should you have any feed­back, ques­tions or just an opin­ion you want to share.

(1) Alliance, A. (2014). How Automak­ers Are Dri­ving Inno­va­tion.

(2) Phil Rogers, Advanced Micro Devices.
(3) Lutin, J. M., Korn­hauser, A. L., & Lern­er-Lam, E. (2013). The rev­o­lu­tion­ary devel­op­ment of self-dri­ving vehi­cles and impli­ca­tions for the trans­porta­tion engi­neer­ing pro­fes­sion. ITE Jour­nal, 83 (7).
(4) Alliance, A. (2014). How Automak­ers Are Dri­ving Inno­va­tion.
(5) Epprecht, N., von Wirth, T., Stünzi, C., & Blumer, Y. B. (2014). Antic­i­pat­ing tran­si­tions beyond the cur­rent mobil­i­ty regimes: How accept­abil­i­ty mat­ters. Futures, 60, 30–40.
(6) Rupp, J. D., & King, A. G. (2010). Autonomous Driving‑A Prac­ti­cal Roadmap: SAE Tech­ni­cal Paper.
(7) Sil­berg, G., Wal­lace, R., Matuszak, G., Plessers, J., Brow­er, C., & Sub­ra­man­ian, D. (2012). Self-dri­ving cars: The next rev­o­lu­tion. White paper, KPMG LLP & Cen­ter of Auto­mo­tive Research.
(8) Rupp, J. D., & King, A. G. (2010). Autonomous Driving‑A Prac­ti­cal Roadmap: SAE Tech­ni­cal Paper.

About the author

Orig­i­nal­ly from Upper Aus­tria (Kirch­dorf a.d. Krems), Lam­bert Neu­mayr is liv­ing in Vien­na since 2009. He is an alum­nus of both WU Vien­na Uni­ver­si­ty of Eco­nom­ics and Busi­ness as well as Queen’s School of Busi­ness, Kingston, Cana­da. The affil­i­a­tion to Acad­e­mia Supe­ri­or start­ed in Feb­ru­ary and March 2015 when he par­tic­i­pat­ed both in the Young Acad­e­mia work­shop in Linz pri­or to the Sur­prise Fac­tor Sym­po­sium as well as in the Sym­po­sium in Gmunden itself. The con­tent of this blog entry is a short-ver­sion of his mas­ter the­sis he has writ­ten at the depart­ment for Strat­e­gy and Inno­va­tion at WU Vien­na.