The University of Michigan Sustainable Worldwide Transportation Research Institute (UMTRI) is founded on the mission to address transportation’s future safety, energy, and environmental issues.
The institute analyzes factors influencing future trends, with input from various researcher organizations as well as experts from UMTRI (current members include ExxonMobil, Ford Motor Company, Michelin Americas Research, and more).
One of the most ubiquitous future trends is the development of self-driving car technology and the move towards increased automation in vehicles. To date, UMTRI has completed a series of reports that address public opinion.
In its most recent report, which analyzes responses from 505 licensed drivers in the U.S., the institute examines motorist preferences for vehicle automation levels, including interaction preferences and overall concern for riding in self-driving cars.
The report found that most commuters prefer no self-driving capability, a drastic change from a 2014 report in which a majority of respondents expressed a desire to have the technology in their vehicles (although they don’t want to pay for it). While this shift could be attributed to various factors, many have recently communicated concern about the technology’s reliability.
Another concern, which the institute reported on in April 2015, is the effect of self-driving vehicles on motion sickness. According to the report, motion sickness would be more of an issue in self-driving vehicles than in conventional vehicles. The three main issues contributing to this, include conflict between vestibular and visual inputs, an inability to anticipate motion direction, and a lack of control over direction.
This lack of control is the main issue for drivers who prefer no self-driving capability.
According to the report, “Respondents overwhelmingly want to be able to manually control completely self-driving vehicles when desired.” In order to know when to take manual control, the report explains, “Most respondents prefer to be notified of the need to take control of a partially self-driving vehicle with a combination of sound, vibration, and visual warnings.”
The report also took into consideration driver’s preferences for touchscreens versus voice commands; however, the responses were generally divided.
Most importantly, the concern level for riding in a completely self-driving vehicle remains high, as it was 2014. However, many advancements have been made over the past year to help increase the vehicle’s safety.
According to another UMTRI report from January 2015, self-driving vehicles are expected to improve road safety; improve the mobility of those who currently cannot use conventional vehicles; and reduce emissions; it also adds that the expectation of zero fatalities with self-driving cars is not realistic.
“It is not a foregone conclusion that a self-driving vehicle would ever perform more safely than an experienced, middle-aged driver,” adds the report. “During the transition period when conventional and self-driving vehicles would share the road, safety might actually worsen, at least for the conventional vehicles.”
While not all of these results are encouraging (to those who want a self-driving car), the reports demonstrate how much can change in a year’s time.