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Going beyond hands-free: the future of driverless cars
After launching Model 3 on 29 June, Tesla has been on what can only be described as a honeymoon period with rave reviews of the new electric car. With the recent developments and subsequent support/criticism over driverless cars and the technology surrounding it, the Drum Network wanted to ask a few questions. First of all, would you get in one? And secondly, where does the future of the automotive industry lie?
Lara Groves, lead creative, Impero
The driverless car concept is sure to prevail in a world hell-bent on cramming as much into our days, work lives and infrastructure as humanly possible. Should we be worried? The threat of hostile intervention is a genuine concern – but heck, so are accidents caused by driver error today. As our technologies evolve, so too will the dangers we face – not to mention our associations with getting behind the wheel.
Will the ‘thrill of driving’ be replaced by in-car entertainments? Will ‘taking in the scenery’ become ‘getting on with our emails’? Perhaps we’ll take nostalgic trips down memory lane by occasionally switching to ‘driver mode’, knowing the in-car tech is really doing the legwork, but relishing that old, familiar feeling – the automotive equivalent of a nicotine-free vape, for former drivers who just can't kick the habit.
Owain Powell, digital marketing manager, Tangent
Personally, I’m a firm believer in AI supporting humans, but don’t believe that we are yet in a position to rely on it and would feel very uncomfortable at getting to that stage - Skynet, Terminator and all that!
With driverless cars, I remember being blown away as a kid by a Tomorrow's World segment in the 90s, so would have expected driverless cars to have been rolled out by now. If one of the largest organisation in the world (Google) haven’t yet sussed this out, you won’t find me anywhere near one!
Moreover, I don’t like the idea of being chauffeured around as I like to be in control. I do believe though that the future of the automotive industry lies in making vehicles more intelligent with more powerful features to assist the driver, especially where safety is concerned, but not AI controlling user behaviour.
Nick Liddell, director of consulting, The Clearing
I'd want to know what the car would do in the following situation: faced with an unavoidable crash, it has to decide whether to kill a pedestrian or kill its passenger. Who does it choose to kill? If the car is programmed to prioritise the passenger, then I'll get in. If it's programmed to protect the pedestrian, then I'm walking everywhere from now on.
Brad Smith, commercial director, Sagittarius
Would I get in it? Yes. Would I be impressed? No. For me driving is the experience – I don’t really want to be driven. Based on the average vehicle trip being only around 19 minutes long according to recent research, I’d go so far to say it’s pretty pointless.
Ewen Haldane, business director, The School of Life
From many action films we are used to the hero (think Maverick in Top Gun or Han Solo in Star Wars) switching off the clunky, automatic controls so they can react on a more instinctive, organic, ‘human’ way. Unfortunately, we have a far too optimistic conception of how well our skills match up to current technology. Very soon we’ll see driverless cars in the same way as washing machines – no-one would go back to the days of hand washing clothes. The problem with early adoption is not that people won’t trust the technology itself but that they won’t feel safe with a mix of driverless and non-driverless cars on the road at the same time. For it to feel safe, certain areas will need to be designated as fully driverless for a while. Once that happens, I’ll jump in and happily watch Star Wars while I’m driven around.
Eddie May, managing director, The Playbook
Would I get into a driverless car? Yes, absolutely! When you think about it, we all trust Uber drivers to get us from A to B safely with no real idea of how competent they are, so it’s not a great leap from there to putting our faith in Google or Apple to take the wheel.
Is it the future? It seems destined to be. A lot of new cars already drive themselves to a large extent with lane assist, automatic braking and parking assist, so it’s not a big step to full-on driverless-ness. The big promise is that driverless will lead to a massive reduction in car ownership, accidents, congestion and journey times. Let’s hope so, although not sure if that’s great news for the automotive industry as a whole.
Andrea Lennon, senior vice president and managing director, Critical Mass
I wouldn’t get in a driverless car quite yet. There’s no doubt that driverless technology has the potential to transform the auto industry—an entirely new paradigm. But the barriers it faces are numerous and varied. While driverless cars still face technical constraints, successful adoption will ultimately hinge on very human factors. Trust, control, choice, price, enjoyment, and convenience will matter as much as advances in artificial intelligence. Self-driving cars will also need to prove that they can provide a good customer experience—something that’s easy, useful, dependable, solves a problem, provides us with pleasure, and entertains us. On top of that, consider how many us will either buy a car or use ground transportation services at some point in our lives. Companies developing driverless technologies will need to account for a bevvy of customer contexts—urban, rural, young, old, driving enthusiast, technology-averse—the list goes on. A paradigm only truly shifts when customers believe they are getting the best experience, at the best value, available to them. That’s no small task where robots, engines and wheels are concerned.
Mark Williams, head of search, iCrossing
Autonomous vehicles, rather than appearing suddenly, have been in the pipeline for at least 2 decades. We’ve been handing over the keys to the controls of our car slowly, starting with less important features like turning the headlights on, wiping our windscreen or locking our doors. Over the last 5 years we’re grown confident enough to let our vehicles take control of more advanced systems, they can now brake and accelerate within traffic, steer themselves within lane markers and perform emergency stops. Over the next five years we’ll likely see these automated features being chained together to allow first complete automation on a motorway. Would I get in an autonomous car? Absolutely. In fact, most of us already have, in part, with many modern cars already automating many functions previously undertaken by a human, this is just the next evolution of a project decades in the making.
Matt Franey, chief executive officer, Foxtrot Papa
I can hardly say no! At Foxtrot Papa, right now, we’re helping some of the world’s biggest automotive brands to tell their stories when it comes to what we call CASE - the Connectivity, Autonomy, Shared economy and Electrification of next-gen passenger vehicles.
Whether people like it or not, we are on an inexorable path towards driverless, connected cars. It is going to happen. Car makers are investing billions and billions to make their vehicles safer, more intelligent, more versatile extensions of our already connected lives. Some of that development, like better connectivity, is relatively easy to sell to customers whose lives already deliver always-on wi-fi and instant streaming content, for example.
Some of it is much harder: like true ‘Level 5’ autonomy, where all passengers will literally sit back and enjoy the ride. But they will. Probably before 2025. So we’ve got no more than eight years to get used to the idea!
Fiona Spencer, senior account manager, JJ Marketing
We are gradually progressing towards fully autonomous vehicles with today’s vehicles already containing advanced technology that would have been unlikely not so long ago. Autonomous emergency braking and lane assist technology are now widely available.
With all Tesla’s now being built with the hardware required for full self-driving capability, they are predicting that true autonomy is only a couple of years away,. Meanwhile, Ocado has revealed they are beginning to trial deliveries with driverless vans and there are others; Uber and Google are advancing their driverless vehicles and investigating ride-sharing models.
The opportunities autonomous vehicles present could be life changing - would it become difficult to justify owning a vehicle that effectively is under-utilised for most of the day? In urban areas, the call for an ‘on-demand’ autonomous vehicle will become widespread, transforming public transport. Given the speed of change taking place in the automotive industry, it seems more and more likely that our roads will our resemble a scene from Blade Runner within our lifetime.
Matt Gee, head of digital transformation, Isobar UK
Yes, I would absolutely get into a driverless car manufactured by a reputable company. As with regular cars there will varying levels of quality, safety and technology which will need to be regulated and standardised. It’s an incredibly exciting time for transportation development – I see driverless cars as the first wave of multiple vehicle forms enabled by technology which will be transformative in terms of convenience, speed, comfort and flexibility.
Additionally, a number of new services connected to transportation will evolve and be integrated such as in-motion commerce and delivery and individualised communications and entertainment. The way the sector is embracing technology and AI will lead to a new golden age of transportation with environmental and human benefit. Whilst the evolution will not be flawless, it will be fundamental.
Alex Lee, digital producer, Sagittarius
As a bit of a petrol head I’m reluctant to admit it but cars are going full robot in the not too distant future. Non-robot petrols will be kept only by rich enthusiasts, much like horses are now kept for pleasure instead of hauling carts. Sad face.
But as a UI designer I’m really excited by the interfaces we’ll need to talk to our AI chauffeurs. Imagine a typical journey: after using a voice command to request a pick up from my lunch meeting I’ll step into my ride and the music and AC will automatically update to my preferences; for a video conference the windows will tint and my call will appear on the windscreen. Followed by ads, no doubt.
Major manufacturers and tech giants are chasing this radical future. The change is driven by convenience, sustainability and safety but the inspiration is coming from digital.
Stuart Lafferty, data strategy partner, Rapp
Yeah, sure I’d get in. Statistics will speak for themselves. By the time driverless cars are launched, and I’m sure they will be safer per passenger mile than planes (which are currently the gold standard of passenger safety). I’m guessing that aerophobe wouldn’t agree with me. But I think the question is missing the point. Who asked for them? What are they for?
London exceeds pollution targets regularly and when I speak to people who have just arrived by car their top complaints are “awful traffic” or “nightmare parking” neither of which are addressed by driverless cars. In my view it’s a bit like the moon landing, you get the bragging rights and undoubtedly some of the technology is trickling down in to day to day life, automatic braking, hands-free parking etc. However, if we don’t address pollution and congestion first, it just becomes another technology looking for a purpose.
Fergus Cable-Alexander, client director, JJ Marketing
Yes absolutely, I would get in a driverless car. Albeit cautiously at first. The technology is now good enough to be appearing on the higher end models from the likes of Audi and Volvo. It’s a case of slowly but surely releasing it so we get used to it. The tech for fully autonomous cars is ready, but the infrastructure and driver education lags behind. Drivers must understand they still have to pay attention, as they will need to intervene at any given moment. Imagine when cruise control first appeared? Back then, as it is now with driverless tech, it’s a case of learning to trust the tech and knowing when to intervene. Driverless tech ushers in the concept of ‘mobility’. Hailing vehicles not drivers, and using cars not owning them. As a petrolhead it pains me to admit it, but in the not too distant future we will start seeing fewer and fewer cars sitting unused on driveways, and more and more people borrowing cars when they need them, probably without drivers.
This article was originally published in The Drum Network's Auto Special. Please contact email@example.com for more details or to receive a copy.
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