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Public attitudes to autonomous vehicles are warming up

Are we ready for self-driving cars? A new survey suggests that the majority are now ready to be driven.

With an ageing population in need of transport, Japan is betting on autonomous cars. — © AFP
With an ageing population in need of transport, Japan is betting on autonomous cars. — © AFP

The company Zoox has conducted a ‘Future of Commute’ survey. This looks into the habits of workers, and it reveals some interesting stats on the perception of autonomous vehicles. The survey is made up of the opinions of a section of the U.S. population.

As to what constitutes an autonomous vehicle, this is a transport that can drive itself from a starting point to a predetermined destination in “autopilot” mode using various in-vehicle technologies and sensors, including adaptive cruise control, active steering (steer by wire), anti-lock braking systems (brake by wire), GPS navigation technology, and navigational lasers.

The survey finds that 55 percent of those surveyed agree that autonomous vehicles would improve their commute. This is not only something that is an aspiration for 59 percent of the poll anticipates being able to ride in a fully autonomous vehicle within the next five years.

This is despite progress with self-driving cars having slowed considerably in the past few years and the date that companies like Tesla have predicted for fully autonomous car rollouts have long since passed.

As to why the development of autonomous cars has stalled, it remains that around 80 percent of self-driving is relatively simple. This includes the design of features like making the car follow the line of the road, sticking to a certain side, and avoiding crashing.

With the next 10 percent of development, this involves dealing with more difficult situations such as roundabouts and complex junctions.

The last 10% is really difficult. This relates to the ethical issues of a person standing in the middle of the road – does the car avoid the person and risk swerving into other traffic or continue on?

With specific locales, 65 percent of the survey numbers believe that a city that offers self-driving/autonomous taxis and ride hailing services would be a more attractive place to live. This is in relation to autonomous vehicles become essential to the urban planning process.

As an example of this, Waymo has indicated that it plans to start offering rides in its fully autonomous vehicles — without human safety drivers behind the wheel — in San Francisco. The Google company plans to have this rolled out ‘very soon’.

In terms of the roll-out time, 41 percent of U.S. citizens believe that in 10 years, all vehicles on the road could be fully self-driving and autonomous.

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Dr. Tim Sandle is Digital Journal's Editor-at-Large for science news. Tim specializes in science, technology, environmental, business, and health journalism. He is additionally a practising microbiologist; and an author. He is also interested in history, politics and current affairs.

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