Driverless vehicles: A tough sell in some quarters

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The seemingly head-long development of so-called “driverless vehicles” is winning converts in many corners of the motor vehicle world, particularly the U.S. Army, which thinks deploying “robot trucks” for convoy duty could help avoid putting soldiers in harm’s way for mundane logistics needs.

Indeed, this is not a new endeavor, as the U.S. military has been testing such “unmanned vehicles” for quite some time now via its Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) for well over a decade now.

[You can watch one such “robot truck” designed by truck-maker Oshkosh being put through its paces during a DARPA-sponsored autonomous vehicle competition back in 2005 below.]

Non-military vehicle makers also envision big potential for “autonomous cars,” such as Carlos Ghosn, chairman and CEO of the Renault-Nissan Alliance, who spoke about the possibilities such technology could offer the motoring public last year at Stanford University.

I’ve touched on the “driverless vehicle” issue a few times in this space, most recently here and here, noting full well my own personal reluctance to be piloted about our busy roadways in a “hands off” environment, no matter how rock-solid driverless vehicle technology is supposed to be.

[As an example, Google’s been testing driverless cars since 2010, but I’m not so sure I could hand off the driving duties as easily as shown below.]

Yet it seems my personal reluctance towards embracing “driverless” vehicle technology is fairly widespread among the general public, at least according to a survey conducted by Harris Interactive on behalf of Seapine Software.

That online poll – conducted January 24-28 this year among 2,039 adults ages 18 and over – found that 88% of those surveyed would be worried about riding in a driverless car. On top of that, more than three-fourths (79%) worry that the equipment in a driverless car will fail, such as a braking software glitch or failed warning sensor that alerts the driver of danger.

“As driverless cars enter the market, car manufacturers face the challenge of managing new technologies, like wheel speed sensors and laser scanners, to ensure quality, safety, and compliance with strict government standards and regulations,” noted Rick Riccetti (at right), Seapine’s president and CEO, in a statement.

Here are some other findings where driverless vehicle technology is concerned:

  • More than half (59%) are worried about liability issues, such as who would be responsible if a driverless car is involved in an accident.
  • Some 52% fear a hacker could breach the driverless car’s system and gain control of the vehicle.
  • More than one-third (37%) worry auto companies, insurers, advertisers and municipalities may collect personal data such as where the car goes and how fast it’s traveling.
  • Only 12% said they would not be worried about riding in a driverless car.
  • The biggest “gender gap” is the issue of responsibility with 64% of women stating they are worried about liability issues, compared to 54% of men.
  • Age is not a factor in apprehension level, as 93% of adults 65 and older said they would be worried about riding in a driverless car, while 84% of 18 to 34-year-olds agree.

“To meet these challenges, auto companies must implement suitable methods and measures for software development to manage quality and mitigate risk,” added Seapine’s Riccetti. “This research confirms that consumers likely won’t hand over the wheel until auto companies can prove equipment is safe from software glitches or failures.”

No doubt though that is where vehicle manufacturers of trucks and cars alike will focus their efforts in the coming months and years where driverless technology is concerned.

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