Are you afraid of self-driving cars? You might not be, if you got a chance to ride in one. At least, that’s the hope of SAE International and Partners for Automated Vehicle Education.
This weekend, the two groups partnered together to offer Detroit, Michigan residents the opportunity to ride in some self-driving cars — from Lincolns to Chryslers — fitted with autonomous driving technology. The autonomous demo days ride event corresponded with SAE International’s WCX annual conference in Detroit.
Democratic congresswoman Debbie Dingell was one of the hundreds of area residents who queued up for a chance to ride in self-driving car.
“Public confidence in autonomous vehicles has decreased, not increased, over the last year for a variety of reasons,” Dingell told the Associated Press. “And people need to get to know it. They need to be hands-on. They need to see that it works.”
Dingell isn’t speaking from anecdotal evidence either. Last month Reuters/Ipsos surveyed 2,222 Americans about autonomous cars. 63% of respondents indicated they would not purchase a self-driving car.
That said, participants in SAE International demo days in Detroit last weekend seemed swayed by their experience.
“I think that it’s just ignorance that keeps us from wanting to do this. And once you experience it, it’s marvelous,” Mary Van Der Maas said afterward. She’s a 73-year-old retiree from Grosse Pointe, Michigan, and apparently enjoyed her ride in an autonomous Chrysler Pacifica Hybrid minivan.
The goals of the event were to not only expose people to self-driving vehicles but also inform them of the potential benefits the technology presents, including increased safety, reduced environmental impact, and expanded mobility for those without the ability to drive a traditional vehicle.
“Autonomous vehicles are undeniably the future of transportation,” Paul Fleck, Dataspeed Inc. Founder & CEO, said in a prepared statement. “And it’s critical we ensure the public is properly educated on the technology.”
The fact remains, however, as we have discussed before here on the site, that self-driving cars are inevitable. While news like that of the self-driving Uber vehicle that killed a bicyclist in Arizona last year scares consumers away from the technology, automakers and other companies are rushing toward the tech.
It’s imperative that other organizations and brands hold similar events to SAE International’s Detroit demo days event throughout the country over the coming years. Certainly, some companies might feel that their tech isn’t ready for public primetime. And that might well be.
In fact, I’ve ridden in some self-driving cars that were downright unimpressive and sometimes scary — and that sentiment is coming from a guy who is a longtime proponent of the tech.
Despite that, though, brands need to step up and begin the long, arduous slog of introducing autonomous cars to Americans and educating them about their benefits. Simply hoping people will be comfortable with hopping in an autonomous Uber in two years — without any hand holding — is unrealistic.
Demonstrations like this don’t need to be the sole avenue through which the public is indoctrinated, though. Delivering groceries to people’s homes by way of self-driving pod is another great way to ease them into accepting the tech.
No matter how companies wish to demo their autonomous vehicle tech to the public, they ought to start sooner rather than later. Otherwise they might face a harsh reality of billions of dollars worth of research, development, and vehicles languishing by the side of the road because people won’t get near them.