Consumer confusion over autonomous technology could be delaying its adoption, discovers Billy Kihei.

With a growing landscape of autonomous and connected car technologies entering the market, consumers are also facing a growing number of adoption issues. Educating them about what the tech is and, crucially, is not are important pieces towards improving adoption rates on the way to Level 5 autonomy. Autonomous stakeholders need to educate the correct information to consumers to ensure misunderstanding doesn’t result in missed sales.

The impact of tech confusion

If auto technology is too complex consumers, they don’t choose to buy it or just ignore it because they don’t trust it. This is most apparent in studies which show younger drivers trust new technology, while older drivers are more distracted by the technology. It is as if younger drivers have an expectation of how the technology should and should not perform. However, these younger drivers can’t afford the types of cars with these technologies yet. Which is why the focus needs to shift towards convincing seasoned drivers to adopt more expensive autonomy systems to speed up adoption.

Michael Ramsey, automotive analyst for Gartner says “Technologies, such as adaptive cruise control, have never caught on strongly with consumers because they have unintended effects. When the system is activated, it maintains a “safe” but rather lengthy distance between the car in front of it. This leads other cars to pass in front, pushing the driver ever farther back.”

Another caveat is that not every technology is the same to all drivers, studies show that across older and younger drivers autonomous braking capabilities sell. Indicating that for certain driving conditions, many consumers understand the technology and want the car to brake for them.

Distrust is rooted in misunderstanding

Recent studies report about half of consumers wouldn’t purchase a fully autonomous car. Furthermore, half of consumers don’t even want to ride in a fully autonomous vehicle, showing preference for partial autonomy.

Most research studies associate the lack of consumer adoption to a lack of trust in the technology. Perhaps autonomous and connected technology adoption are directly related to consumer education about what the tech? To plainly put the argument: it’s more important that consumers know how to operate their vehicles with the technology engaged, than knowing that the technology is vulnerable.

Drue Freeman an advisor and investor in the connected and autonomous vehicle space said: “In the race to be a leader in connected/autonomous vehicles, there is a very real risk that marketing departments will overhype the capabilities of certain technologies and downplay the limitations.”

New training method needs to be developed to help drivers with trusting the autonomous and connected technologies. Just because autonomous or connected features are available on-board doesn’t mean they needs to be used in all situations. Proper driver training in the best conditions can lead toward bolstering driver confidence. For lane keeping technologies, training the driver to expect tension feedback during lane changes without blinkers will help them not be startled by the autonomous action. For vehicle-to-everything connectivity, drivers need to be trained in how the safety message is used and that, when driving alongside a large truck, they may not be able to hear a vehicle on the other side.

Consumer empowerment is key

Just as defensive driving courses train operators to have an awareness, distrust in autonomy can be removed by training drivers what failures to anticipate in the technology and giving them a way to resolve errors.

Dr Joseph Coughlin, director of Massachusetts Institute of Technology Agelab says: “The keys to selling more connected car and autonomous car technology is to: provide driver education for a lifetime, reinvent the car buying and car experience, and show drivers how to use the technology parked first before reaching 60mph in semi or full-autonomy.”

Firms are already investing in buyer experience centres, dedicated towards educating drivers about enjoying their products. User experience programmes such as these, when focused on autonomy and connected education, will be pivotal for adoption beyond Level 3. For firms that have a larger customer base, virtualising the education through an application or website will be necessary to provide driver education over the lifetime of the buyer as new technologies emerge.

Drivers could also be educated at the dealership through after-hours classes, passenger tutors, and safe autonomy driving reminders. These programs invest in the consumer to that they can be comfortable with the technology.

The focus needs to shift towards empowering consumers with the ability to know how to work with the tech and what to expect. Currently there is a high correlation between lower educated drivers resulting in a higher likelihood to die in a car accident. These are serious considerations for stakeholders to consider if they wish to get their autonomous and connected platforms saving lives and paying dividends now to fund future developments.

[Tele.Kihei.2017.08.18]

TU-Automotive Detroit 2018

06 Jun 2018 - 07 Jun 2018, NOVI, USA

With 150 speakers, a 200,000 sq ft exhibition and 3000 attendees, TU-Automotive Detroit is the world's biggest conference & expo for connected & autonomous cars.