Who rules the road?

23 May 2018

Who rules the road?

Traverse has been finding out what members of the public think about the use of Autonomous Cars as part of the ongoing FLOURISH programme.

You may have noticed an increasing number of articles in the press about robots taking over our jobs and decision-making. We recently explored the following questions with 60 members of the public across 6 different focus groups as part of the ongoing FLOURISH programme (http://www.flourishmobility.com/):

  • Who should have the final say about the route and speed at which a connected autonomous vehicle travels at?
  • Is it acceptable to users if their vehicle drives at a reduced speed or takes a less direct route if this benefits the network as a whole?

Below we share some of the highlights from our discussions around these themes.

  • Participants across the groups liked the idea of the vehicle identifying and selecting the optimum routes to reach a destination in the least possible time. Many participants who were drivers compared this type of functionality to Satnavs, and speculated that driverless vehicles might have even better and more up to date data to draw on when making decisions.
  • Whilst the idea of having suggested routes was seen as desirable, a majority in each of the groups wanted to have the ultimate say about the routes taken by the vehicle and they wanted to be able to override a decision made by the vehicle. Some felt that this was important because they might have a preferred or more direct route than the one suggested by the driverless vehicle. Other reasons included, wanting to be able to take a more scenic route or to take a route where emergency stops and diversions were easier to accommodate.
  • Overall, participants tended to be comfortable with taking slightly longer and less direct routes for the benefit of the wider network, however some felt that it was important that there was transparency from the vehicles about how and why they were making decisions. Furthermore, whether you privately own the vehicle or are hiring it for a one-off journey, the degree of choice and control over the vehicle should be the same. 
  • Whilst participants were willing to make modest sacrifices in terms of speed and directness of the route, across all of the groups, there was a strong view that once you have entered your appointment time, the vehicle should prioritise getting you there on time. This was felt to be particularly important for things like health appointments and trips to the airport, but less important when it came to leisure trips and other less urgent appointments.
  • Whilst choice over the speed and route were felt to be important, a few participants suggested that in practice, there would often be circumstances where they would be happy to ‘sit back’ and defer to the decision making of the vehicle. For example, many were keen on the idea of being able to enjoy an alcoholic drink or watch a film while using driverless vehicles. However, on the flip side a few participants wondered whether there was a risk that deferring to connected autonomous vehicles risked creating a population who were increasingly reliant on technology to navigate and get around.

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