Support Is Growing for Autonomous Vehicles

One driverless-car developer predicts small towns will get the first self-driving autos.

October 08, 2020

ALEXANDRIA, Va.—According to a recent survey, 62% of people surveyed believe autonomous vehicles are the way of the future, reports

The survey of more than 1,000 Americans comes from Motional, a driverless technology company created by Hyundai and Aptive to work on commercial uses of SAE Level 4 vehicles. The levels of driving automation range from none, or Level 0, to full driving automation, or Level 5, according to the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety. So-called Level 4 vehicles can intervene for the driver if something goes wrong or if there is a system failure. When operating in certain conditions, they do not require human interaction; however, a human driver still is needed to take over at any time. Consumers can’t yet buy a fully autonomous vehicle that can perform the entire driving task without driver input.

The Motional survey also found that there’s a knowledge gap around self-driving vehicles that plays directly into an enthusiasm gap. Respondents who rated themselves “extremely knowledgeable” about autonomous vehicles were far more likely to believe that vehicles equipped with advanced driver assistance features on the road today are safe and reliable (76%), versus respondents who said they are “less knowledgeable,” of whom only 10% said current models equipped with these features are safe. 

That gap persists when asking if driverless vehicles are the way of the future, with 82% of those extremely knowledgeable saying “yes,” but only 23% of the less knowledgeable saying the same. Of those considering themselves highly knowledgeable, 72% said they would be excited to ride in a self-driving vehicle, and only 11% of the self-described less knowledgeable say the same. 

“This report makes clear that familiarity is the key to adoption,” said Karl Iagnemma, president and CEO, Motional. “As we get more cars on the road, we’ll bridge the gap between the perception of this technology, and the reality of how positively and permanently it will change our daily lives.”

In addition, COVID-19 has had an impact on public opinion regarding safety, with 70% of survey respondents saying that the risk of infection has impacted their transportation choices and 76% saying they’re more concerned about the safety of public spaces.

One autonomous car developer believes that self-driving vehicles are still years away from being commonplace in highly populated cities, reports Bloomberg

Oliver Cameron, a 32-year-old from Halifax, England, came to the U.S. in 2010 to join a smartphone company, but he ended up developing a self-driving car curriculum. That project became the seed for Voyage, a self-driving car start-up that focuses on providing robo-taxi services in retirement communities where low-speed, low-traffic roads make the engineering challenge easier. Voyage has contracts with two large retirement communities, but that service halted during the pandemic.

“Self-driving technology remains years away from being safe and scalable in dense cities,” Cameron said. “The state-of-the-art in-machine learning and robotics is just not yet up to the challenge. And when it comes to highways and high-speed autonomous trucking, one of the challenges that remains there is fail-operational research and development. With a truck that is going 65 miles an hour, you’ve got to be [sure] that your system works, that you are not seeing false positives that cause the vehicle to stop when it shouldn’t be stopping and cause a pile-up behind it.

“I feel very confident that in the next 12-to-24 months, you’re going to see self-driving vehicles, with no person in the vehicle, moving people on a daily basis,” he said. “Now, will that happen in San Francisco? Will that happen in New York City? Probably not.”

Cameron said that serving retirement communities is just the beginning for Voyage. Eventually the company aims to serve planned developments in towns and small cities, a market that Cameron puts at $780 billion annually.