The Road Ahead

Examing and Predicting the World of Autonomous Vehicles

Audi vs. Uber: Which Companies Will Win the Race for Consumer Trust?

“On my fourth day in a semi-driverless car, I finally felt comfortable enough to let it stop itself. Before then, I’d allowed the car — a Volvo S90 sedan — to steer around gentle turns, with my hands still on the wheel, and to adjust speed in traffic. By Day 4, I was ready to make a leap into the future.”

This reaction was captured by an opinion piece in the New York Times by David Leonhardt.

“With the car traveling 40 miles an hour on a busy road in the Washington suburbs, I pushed a button to activate the driverless mode and moved my foot away from the brake and accelerator. The car kept its speed. Soon, a traffic light in the distance turned red, and the cars in front of me slowed. For a split second, I prepared to slam on the brake. There was no need. […] My car came to a stop behind the Ford ahead of me. I began laughing, even though no one else was in the car, as my anxiety turned to relief.

This gives an intriguing perspective into the mind and thought process of an individual, who has come to represent a large portion of society, when it comes to the trust of autonomous vehicles. Leonhardt put it best when he said:

“Driverless cars tap deep into the human psyche. We want to be in control, or at least to give control to trained professionals, like doctors. We don’t want computers to be in charge.”

This is one of the fundamental issues pertaining to the integration of autonomous vehicles into society. Control, or the delegation of control to another human that we have established trust in is hard to hand over to a machine. But, as Leonhardt writes, the solution may be as simple as allowing users to have a first-hand experience of the power autonomous technology possess. While this may not quell every minutia of hesitation, notably that of cyber and vehicular security, it will tackle two primary concerns of individuals’ relating to trusting autonomous vehicles.

First, the willingness to get behind the wheel of a self-driving car. A study conducted by AAA, found that 75% of respondents would be afraid to ride in an autonomous vehicle, a number that has held steady over a number of years. While there are discrepancies among gender (Women (85%) are more likely to be afraid than men (69%)) and along generations (Baby Boomers (85%) are more likely to be afraid than Millennials (73%) and Generation X (75%) drivers) the fact that these numbers remain the same year over year demonstrates a systematic error in the approach of tackling consumer trust issues.

Second, the level of comfort and safety of having autonomous vehicles on the road with non-autonomous vehicles. In the same study, it was found that 54% of drivers would feel less safe sharing the road with self‐driving cars while they drive a regular car. Again, there are discrepancies among gender (Women (58%) are more likely to feel less safe sharing the road with a self‐driving vehicle than men (49%)) and along generations (Baby Boomers (60%) and Generation X (56%) are more likely to feel less safe sharing the road with a self‐driving vehicle than Millennial drivers (41%)). This potentially presents a critical challenge for companies attempting to rollout their minimum viable product while dealing with legislative and societal pushback.

While there are many points of entry and market segments to target within commercial autonomous vehicles, two of the largest remain self-driving cars intended for personal use and ride sharing services conducted by autonomous vehicles. How will each subset of the industry attack these issues revolving around trust, and is one better positioned to increase an individual’s or even a society’s acceptance of this new technology. There are no better companies to compare across these market segments than Audi and Uber.

Audi is undoubtedly a behemoth in the automotive industry from North America to Europe. They are also one of the companies leading the charge in personal autonomous vehicles. This is demonstrated in their new A8, the first mass market car equipped with level 3 autonomous features, as well as their level 4+ concept cars; the Aicon and Elaine. The rationale to continue as a company focusing on personal ownership of AVs is understandable. People have a demand and desire for the freedom that ownership possess. But, with this ownership and level 3 functionality, is Audi making it harder for users to ultimately want to make the upgrade to increased autonomy, knowing the tradeoff and sacrifice of the “driving experience” that has become engrained into society.

Audi’s approach certainly tackles the problem that Leonhardt and many Americans experience. A lack of trust for the unknown is dismantled by allowing consumers to get behind the wheel and begin to trust the vehicle through a new experience. This very may well be the stepping stone needed in our journey towards level 5 autonomy.

On the other end of the spectrum we have Uber. A company that has become synonymous with ride-sharing is also attempting to take the driver out of the equation. Uber has a clear financial motive in pursuing self-driving cars, but will their model facilitate trust on the user end. On one hand, Uber has championed user trust in the ride-sharing market once dominated by the taxi industry. The main concern they will have to tackle is how to change user’s beliefs-but unlike Audi, they will be doing this from the backseat.

Perhaps in Uber’s case the answer is as simple as providing data visualization methods for passengers, giving them an immersive experience into the inner workings of the self-driving car. Or maybe, Audi and other car manufacturers have a leg up as, by design, their customers must be in the driver’s seat for this change. Regardless, solutions must be found to convince a large majority of Americans that not only is this technology viable but has the potential to save thousands of lives soon.

Alexander Wulkan is a Junior at Tufts University studying Engineering Psychology (B.A. Human Factors Engineering) and Entrepreneurial Leadership from Montreal, Qc, Canada. 

Leonhardt, D. (2017, October 22). Driverless Cars Made Me Nervous. Then I Tried One. Retrieved October 25, 2017, from https://www.nytimes.com/2017/10/22/opinion/driverless-cars-test-drive.html link

Americans Feel Unsafe Sharing the Road with Fully Self-Driving Cars. (2017, February 22). Retrieved October 25, 2017, from https://goo.gl/ecrEXF link

1 Comment

  1. Great article! I think the distinction you made between learning autonomous vehicles from the drivers perspective compared to the passengers perspective is interesting. It reminds me of the way automation has affected the airline industry. We are passengers on planes, and we trust the pilots to keep us safe, but in reality the pilots are used mainly for communication and check-listing than for flying. And even though the plane is being flown (mostly) by a robot, the passengers don’t consider a plane to be an autonomous vehicle. What’s more, it’s not even clear that the pilots improve efficiency or safety, except during bizarre panic instances. There’s a catalogue of air traffic instances called the Aviation Herald (avherald.com), and what the investigation show is the key to most crashes is multiple layers of human error. Removing the human element could improve safety in less well regulated zones.

    This is to say, that could be an interesting path for Uber. The idea of a human driver can make a passenger feel safe, while the reality of an autonomous driver can actually keep them safe. Then consumer trust will be driven by the spread of the realization that they have been kept safe by automation so many times in the past.

    -Isaac

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