Looks like autonomous driving could become a reality in the near future despite the fact that the technology has only just been tested in prototypes on test routes.
How do prospective users visualize such vehicles? How high is the approval level among the public? The Robocab study, carried out by Fraunhofer IAO and the Institute for Social-Ecological Research (ISOE) with the support of the German Federal Ministry of Transport and Digital Infrastructure (BMVI), offers insights into global survey results.
Just a few years ago, the subject of autonomous driving was almost entirely of concern to software companies, automobile manufacturers, and automotive component suppliers. Meanwhile, the once revolutionary vision of the self-driving car is near realization, and autonomous driving has become a topic of public discussion.
The technology is becoming highly appealing to prospective users, even if in the majority of cases it is still not immediately accessible for use. For the most part, however, it is not clear how one can really visualize these vehicles, termed as robocabs, in concrete terms. Plus, the reservations and expectations on the part of prospective users are equally ambiguous.
Societal acceptance is decisive for success and popularity
The Robocab acceptance study was carried out collaboratively by scientists from the Fraunhofer Institute for Industrial Engineering IAO in Stuttgart, and the Institute for Social-Ecological Research ISOE in Frankfurt. It provides new insight into the user’s opinion concerning automated forms of transportation and assesses acceptance levels for different implementation concepts. Besides preferences for vehicle configurations and equipment, the study’s key focus was user acceptance.
The potential success of a new form of mobility depends on whether or not users find it attractive and whether or not the price is right. Today societal acceptance is for the most part determined by the question of whether or not the new technology fulfills the criteria of sustainability.
Konrad Götz, Mobility Researcher, ISOE
In view of that, the researchers aimed to develop an analytical-scientific basis that reflects and delineates the conceivable spectrum of autonomous vehicle concepts and assesses them with regards to acceptance. So as to gather user viewpoints, quantitative surveys of around 2,400 participants in Germany, the USA, and China were carried out along with qualitative interviews of chosen test subjects.
Expectations placed on robocabs closely tied to intended use
The study results reveal that respondees are quite open to the mobility concept of the robocab and approach the idea with curiosity and interest.
They expect a practical and convenient mobility solution that gets them from point A to point B in an environmentally friendly, efficient, and safe manner.
Maximilian Werner, Researcher, IAO, Fraunhofer
He goes on to say that overall the acceptance is highest in China, followed by the USA and then Germany. “In Germany, robocabs are regarded more as a supplement to the means of transportation currently in use, while in China they are even seen as replacing current modes of transportation. It’s interesting to note that survey participants in the USA and in China mainly see robocabs as an alternative to conventional taxi services, while in Germany responses indicated that they might even compete with buses and trams,” says Werner.
The findings did not help a common vehicle concept for the robocab to be identified; it was more frequently found to be the case that the specific requirements placed on vehicle features, body, and equipment differ according to the individual proposed use. Those surveyed look at autonomous vehicles not as a status symbol, but rather as a dependable, practical, and rapid means of transport.
“For the most part those surveyed see robocabs as a kind of taxi or car-sharing vehicle operating primarily in urban areas and less on long-distance trips,” Werner adds. “However, rural areas should be integrated in the transportation network in order to offer a new and attractive alternative to private cars in those areas where public transportation services are scarce.”
On the whole, the results specify high levels of acceptance for convenient vehicle concepts. Such concepts are mostly appealing to those users who have in the past had a negative attitude towards public transportation because of the inconvenience involved and the lack of privacy and comfort. For them, robocabs signify a sort of convenience shuttle service as a substitute for using their personal vehicles. Such larger, high-end but still practical vehicles could be operated efficiently in semi-public ride-sharing models.
Advantages for people, transportation and the environment
Besides broadening the available spectrum of mobility, removing the hunt for a parking space, better flexibility, and permanent availability were quoted by those surveyed as the most substantial factors in support of using robocabs.
Since the autonomous vehicle can adapt flexibly to requirements and at the same time enables optimum utilization of capacity due to the possibility of carrying multiple passengers, users also expect traffic, in general, to become more optimized and more efficient. The respondents also expect that user groups such as teenagers below the legal driving age and senior citizens who are no longer able to drive will now have the possibility to move about independently, flexibly, and comfortably.
Konrad Götz, Mobility Researcher, ISOE
However, some did state hesitations about the idea of entrusting their own children to a robocab.
Additionally, autonomous mobility concepts are perceived as predominantly sustainable as the survey respondents tended to assume that they involve electric or hybrid vehicles, fitted with batteries with adequate range for short trips and easy to recharge using current infrastructures. In closing, respondents expect robocabs to be less of a burden on the environment and offer a feasible alternative to other types of urban transportation.
Event: In-depth insights into the study and recommendations for policy-makers, industry and service providers
The results of the Robocab study and the derived recommendations for the automotive sector, mobility service providers, for the public transportation sector and for government institutions will be presented at the event “Autonomous Mobility Concepts for the Urban Spaces of Tomorrow” (in German), scheduled for July 9th, 2019 in Stuttgart.
The event will offer a detailed look at the vital elements of the urban infrastructure necessary to provide autonomous mobility services that are both environmentally sound and serve the requirements of the population. Presentations will also be given by prominent mobility experts from the research sector, the automotive sector, and municipal authorities.