Hands-free driving is on its way. Will consumers embrace the technology?
The push for electric vehicles includes a parallel movement to fully autonomous cars. Together, they comprise the chief elements of mobility for the decades ahead.
Hands-Free or Hands-On Driving
Although consumers are certainly receptive and interested in driver-assist technologies when it comes to full automation the interest just isn’t there. That sentiment comes from a survey conducted by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety where drivers say they prefer partial automation along with the appropriate safeguards.
“Automakers often assume that drivers want as much technology as they can get in their vehicles,” says Alexandra Mueller, the survey’s primary designer. “But few studies have examined actual consumer opinions about partial driving automation.”
To get answers, IIHS researchers performed a nationwide survey of more than 1,000 drivers. That survey targeted three similar features: lane centering, automated lane changing, and driver monitoring.
Partial Automation Systems
According to the IIHS, most partial automation systems are engineered to help with highway motoring. For instance, vehicles equipped with lane centering continuously adjust the steering to maintain the vehicle in the middle of its travel lane. Working in conjunction with adaptive cruise control, the system also manages the vehicle’s speed and maintains distance from the vehicle directly ahead.
Some of the more advanced systems available also include automated lane changing that allows the vehicle to switch lanes without driver input. Consumer interest in these technologies is robust. That said, they seem to prefer partially automated features requiring drivers to stay involved while behind the wheel.
As one example, those surveyed learned that there are versions of automated lane changing and lane centering that do not require driver involvement, while others do. The assessment, however, showed that most people prefer drivers remain engaged. Further, in versions where the system “decides” to make lane changes automatically, the survey revealed that consumers still want drivers involved.
Monitoring Driver Behavior
Consumers are also in favor of driver monitoring, one of the safeguards the IIHS is studying as it seeks to create a rating system for partial-automation systems. These systems may include one or more features such as steering wheel sensors, a camera for tracking hand action, and a second camera for monitoring the direction drivers are looking.
“The drivers who were the most comfortable with all types of driver monitoring tended to say they would feel safer knowing that the vehicle was monitoring them to ensure they were using the feature properly,” says Mueller. “That suggests that communicating the safety rationale for monitoring may help to ease consumers’ concerns about privacy or other objections.”
Numerous drivers noted that hands-free lane-centering would make driving more nerve-wracking than the hands-on form. Nevertheless, those who said they would prefer hands-free lane-centering were the most understanding of all types of driver monitoring. Indeed, many drivers stated that the hands-free feature would make driving safer and more relaxing. However, some also voiced an aim to abuse the equipment, declaring hands-free lane-centering would supply them with more of an occasion to do other things while driving. These responses illuminate consumers’ ambiguous knowledge of the limits of partial automation.
Use of Hands
Those who favored hands-on lane-centering appeared to feel more strongly about it than those who preferred hands-free. Among the drivers who wanted to use the feature, around two-thirds of those who preferred hands-on lane-centering or had no preference which type they used said they would buy a vehicle with a hands-on version, but fewer than half said they would purchase a hands-free version. On the other hand, more than three-quarters of drivers who favored hands-free lane-centering said they would purchase a vehicle with either a hands-on or hands-free version of the feature.
What does this say about car shoppers and the technologies manufacturers are proposing? A few things, including consumers, are not necessarily on board with what’s being planned. Thus, manufacturers must listen to consumers or risk developing expensive technologies that will be ignored, even abused.
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