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Poll results - the future of autonomous cars

23/09/2019
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A regular feature in the media is the announcement of the “next step” or “groundbreaking development” that will finally bring us closer to a world in which the streets are filled with autonomous - self-driving - cars. But is the widespread deployment of autonomous vehicles in our lifetimes an actual reality, or will people be unwilling to give up control of their cars?

That’s the question we asked EngineeringPro readers last week, and this is how you responded:

Even among the engineering community there is uncertainty towards whether people will embrace automotive cars once the technology is good enough to put them on the market

Despite almost every automotive manufacturer putting resources into developing autonomous technology, the views of many in the engineering world are mixed. 

Our top ranking answer, with 41.76% of the vote, was “Maybe”. Overall, the prevailing belief seems to be that autonomy is acceptable as long as it can be switched off.

The answer reflects an interesting, if ultimately unsurprising, view of the reliability of technology. On the one hand, the ease of sitting back and allowing yourself to be driven to any destination is obviously appealing. But actually handing over all control to a computer is a step too far. Is this part of a genuine desire to sometimes take over and enjoy driving as an experience? A fear that any failure in one of the thousands of processes that an autonomous vehicle has to conduct every second could be catastrophic? Or simply an innate phobia of allowing yourself to be in a position where an outside force decides upon the outcome?

Whether the answer to these is physical, psychological or philosophical, it’s something that manufacturers have to ask themselves as they continue to develop this technology.

Is the idea of handing over control of your vehicle to a computer that much different than being a passenger in someone else's car?

The Yes/No options in our poll also reflected a similar uncertainty - with each receiving the same number of votes. 25% of all respondents believe in the future of autonomous vehicles as “people just need to learn more about autonomous car technology and experience it”. It’s a response that reflects the success of many new technologies - people are often reluctant to embrace a world changing technology until they try it for themselves. This is of course unfortunate for developers, who have to spend a considerable amount creating the technology before they are able to allow the public to try it for themselves.

Conversely, 25% of respondents believe that “people will always want to drive themselves”. Whether this is true of all people remains to be seen, though it is certain that for many people there is enjoyment to be gained in driving, that would be lost by handing over the reigns to a computer. 

A comment from a respondent who voted “other” provides an alternative reasoning that speaks positively to the future of autonomous vehicles:

“Yes - We also need to include autonomous cars as an approach to social inclusion for people with disabilities and our ageing population. My father had driven with hand controls for over 38 years - he was a previous semi-professional racer and an automotive engineer. He would have welcomed autonomous vehicles.”

Despite the uncertainty, manufacturers continue to develop new autonomous technology. And even if we can’t definitively say that people will embrace the technology once they try it, the solution could be as simple as allowing drivers the option to take control back from the machine. Maybe people will accept autonomous tech if they also have the option to take control.

Have your say

What do you think about the responses to our poll? Do you have a different view that hasn’t been recognised? Let us know in the comments and your views could be featured in this week's EngineeringPro newsletter.

Have your say on another engineering topic in this week’s poll, which will be published later today.

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Poll results - the future of autonomous cars - Time to read 4 min
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