Some Hesitant to Turn the Steering Wheel Over to a Computer

As development in self-driving car technology moves ahead, a growing faction in the blogosphere say they will refuse to let their driving independence be usurped by a computer.

As development self-driving car technology moves ahead, a growing faction in the blogosphere say they will refuse let their driving independence be usurped by a computer.

In one game site discussion, comments ranged from, "They'll take the steering wheel out of my cold, dead hands..." to "I'm not trusting a robot to drive a car for me in a long time."

A recent ZDNet article on self-driving cars garnered more than two dozen responses, which ranged from "leave me out" to "can't wait for [a] year that [the] government would be piloting for me."

While many in the blogosphere say they support the develoment of self-driving technology, the opponents appear to have the early edge according to recent survey data.

For example, a survey of British drivers last year commissioned by Bosch, a Germany-based supplier of automotive components, found that most would not buy a self-driving car. Only 29% of respondents said thay would consider buying a driverless car and only 21% said they would feel safe as a passenger in a self-driving car.

The results were vastly different depending on whether the respondents were men, women, younger or older.

It found that 36% of men wouldd consider buying a self-driving car, but only 20% of women felt the same way. And 52% of 18 to 34-year-old respondents would consider an autonomous vehicle.

Bosch, which has invested heavily in driver assistance tech, also said 34% of respondents believe driverless cars would reduce accidents.

Automakers such as GM and Volvo, and even tech companies such as Google, are developing autonomous vehicle technology that will one day let cars and trucks automatically navigate roadways.

Google, in fact, believes that self-driving or autonomous cars will be a reality in short order.

Google co-founder and special projects director Sergey Brin said last year that self-driving cars will be a reality for "ordinary people" in less than five years. Among automakers , General Motors has said it plans to introduce a semi-automated driving system in the Cadillac line in 2015.

Proponents of the technology say it will allow commuters or long-haul truckers to make better use of their time on boring trips.

"There are a lot of people who enjoy driving under the right circumstances, but there's also a lot of driving that's grunt work. Under those circumstances, the challenge is to stay awake and not bump into the cars in front of you," said David Alexander, an analyst at Navigant Research.

More importantly, its backers say autonomous car tech will reduce accidents and enable those who are physically unable to drive today to get behind a wheel - so to speak.

"[Autonomous auto technology] has the potential to change the very nature of vehicle ownership. I believe it will bring independence to people, not take it away," Alexander said.

95 million self-driving cars a year

A Navigant report released this week claimed that by 2035, more than 95 million self-driving cars will be sold worldwide every year. In 2035, sales of autonomous vehicles will represent 75% of all light-duty vehicle sold, the Navigant report states.

Alexander said he's aware of the negative online comments about autonomous cars, but compared them to people that rallied against the automatic transmission in its early days.

The public view of automated cars, Alexander said, suffers from misperceptions.

For example, if a driver wants to take the wheel, they'll likely be able to disable the automated function. Also, many technologies now in development are aimed more at offering assistance to drivers, not fully automating vehicles.

Today, there are predictive emergency braking, adaptive cruise control and lane departure warning systems that act to assist drivers for safety, but do not take away a person's ability to control the overall driver experience.

"What's important to understand is the definition of autonomous vehicle," Alexander said. "It's an autonomous functionality available in the car. It's not going to mean the cars will be completely automatic and you're not going to be able to do anything. It's a bit like having cruise control in the car, but not everybody uses them."

This story, "Some Hesitant to Turn the Steering Wheel Over to a Computer" was originally published by Computerworld.

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