The consumer road to self-driving cars5 minutes
People of Pittsburgh have shared city streets with Uber's experimental self-driving cars since last year. In Atlanta, a busy stretch of roadway is gearing up for driverless vehicles that can communicate with smart traffic lights and other infrastructure. Earlier this year, the U.S. Dept. of Transportation announced ten self-driving “proving grounds” in cities such as Madison, Wisconsin and San Diego.
What many Americans may not realize is that they are already using autonomous features as self-driving technology moves from research to something people rely on daily. In a recent AAA survey, 59% of respondents said that they want autonomous tech in their next vehicle.
Lessons from consumer electronics
This is a tremendous time to be involved in auto tech. The pace of change, the ideas, the willingness to commit to invention has never been greater. What we’ve learned after almost 100 years of consumer technology development at Panasonic, is that the “wow” wears off quickly. Companies that successfully introduce innovations design them so consumers intuitively understand their features. With intuitive use comes delight, trust, and ultimately, from a consumer’s perspective, technology that disappears behind the experience it supports.
The tech adoption curve allows us to bucket auto innovation over the last few decades into four categories: Latent; Just in Time; Cognitive; and Precognitive. This has been a slow process, which leads us to believe that full “go anywhere” autonomy – meaning no human driver intervention – is years away.
Phase 1: Seat belts—a latent technology
The latent bucket can be described as the individual triggering a feature. Safety belts are an example. It took decades to identify the need, get them into vehicles, and – longest of all – get people to use them. Similarly, ABS brakes were rejected for years because drivers didn’t like their feel.
Phase 2: Airbags signal just-in-time phase
Airbags and other active safety technologies moved the industry into a just-in-time phase--when the vehicle or the individual can both trigger an action to avoid catastrophe. That airbag sensor triggered technology the moment the occupants needed it.
Phase 3: Learning a driver’s behaviors
Today, cognitive technologies can “learn” a driver’s behaviors, sense and react. Even with partial information, these smart systems can make decisions to increase safety, and build trust in more sophisticated autonomous features. Now we’re reaching drivers through multiple senses – eyes, ears, touch – and providing a back-up when their own senses might fail them. Panasonic is enabling these technologies by integrating a middleware solution into our in-vehicle infotainment platform to close gaps in the consumer’s journey. We can identify patterns of travel without having to manually select news, traffic and entertainment to complement the route.
Phase 4: The era of predictive thinking
Each day in the U.S., more than eight people are killed and 1,161 injured in crashes reported to involve a distracted driver, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. This needs to change.
As an industry, we’ve made a lot of progress in knowing the consumer. The next move is to predict behavior to further close that experience gap, and increase safety, so that a car can sense a situation coming up—another vehicle with a blown tire 20 cars ahead--and begin to prevent it, with or without the driver for a safer experience. As we move into precognitive systems, which enable vehicles to cooperate with the environment, the infrastructure, the other vehicles, and reduce cognitive load on the driver, we can start to relieve the amount of attention needed by the driver. Because we know the vehicle, passengers and environment, we can better understand how to enable these technologies for an improved experience. We’re not talking about forecasting six months from now. It’s about understanding what a consumer wants at this very moment. Wherever they are, whatever they’re doing.
About our expert: Andrew Poliak is Vice President Product Planning and Business Development at Panasonic Automotive Systems of America