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Autonomous Cars in 2018: The Future Will Be Humanized

If you grew up in the 1980s, you’ve probably heard of the TV show Knight Rider. If not, here’s a quick summary: David Hasselhoff plays a crime-fighting LA police detective that drives around saving the day in a 1982 Pontiac Trans Am. Except this isn’t any run-of-the-mill ’82 Pontiac. Embedded within it is KITT (Knight Industries Two Thousand) – an artificially intelligent supercomputer that enables the car to act as a normal human would.

The Hoff had a peculiar, but often hilarious bond with KITT. To fans watching at home, KITT represented the first truly emotional and emotive car-human relationship. To the world, Knight Rider was the progeny of autonomous cars. To the automotive industry, this was only the beginning.

More than ever we are constantly reminded about the concept of driverless technology. Every other day we hear about Elon Musk waxing lyrical about the automotive revolution. Whether or not we like it – it’s here. Will it come in a whisper, or in a bang? It’s hard to tell at this stage. But there’s one thing we can tell: if 2017 is the year of autonomous cars, 2018 is going to be the year of how consumers feel about them.

And that’s what we, along with four other Omnicom agencies, discovered in our recent Altermotiv report. Contrary to what the industry thinks, consumers aren’t aligned with the thinking of most car brands. They believe that today’s car manufacturers will not be in the future driver’s seat. Traditional manufacturers are falling behind in the race to inherit the future of mobility. And they need to act on this now.

We hosted an Altermotiv event in London to try and gauge the public’s concerns and questions about autonomous technology. Unsurprisingly, they confirmed everything we discussed in our report.

What do people worry about the most? What were their thoughts on the automotive industry leaders? Here are some of the key questions and concerns they shared at the event:

Safety on the road and security online

It can be scary giving up control and putting your life in the hands of someone else – especially when that “person” is a computer program. The key question in many people’s minds is how much of our privacy and our security are we giving up in exchange for greater convenience?

Here are some of the fears people had about driverless vehicle safety:

  • How much control would I have?

  • Would the autonomous car know what to do in the event of an accident?

  • How will Big Data play into this? What will manufacturers use with my data?

  • How easy is it to hack into a car’s operating system?

Luxury for some but not all

As much as people love and talk about the latest electric car start-up, how many people do you know that actually own one? If there’s one thing we do know about the future of mobility, it won’t come without a price tag. People fear that this will create a new dependency that could create a deeper gap between the haves and the have-nots.

Here’s what people said about the fear of exclusivity:

  • If more expensive car manufacturers make better cars, then will poorer people be priced out?

  • Will a more expensive autonomous car provide a more comfortable experience?

  • Will autonomous cars end up being like phones? Will our choice reflect our social standing?

Will it be disguised as humanity?

In Knight Rider, when KITT was dropped in a vat of acid and “died,” it was just as dramatic and emotional for the audience as if he was a human. (Don’t worry; he was rebuilt in a later episode.) This passionate response leads one to ask: will a car feel like a member of the family or like a robotic stranger in the driver’s seat?

Here’s what people said about the concerns of an autonomous vehicle’s human-ness:

  • Would it have the emotional nuances of a real person? Could it talk back?

  • Can it be personalised?

  • Can I honestly trust a robot more than a human?

Altermotiv driverless car

Perhaps car brands can’t blame Knight Rider for shaping the zeitgeist behind how we see autonomous vehicles. Perhaps only human nature is to blame. Either way, it’s clear that car manufacturers need to act with an emotionally driven approach to automation. If they want to build the next customer-centric car, rather than thinking for their customer (as they have traditionally done), they need to let their customers do the thinking instead.

Download our Altermotiv report here: https://www.altermotiv.com/get-research/

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