There will be nearly 10m cars on roads with at least one self-driving feature by 2020, suggest Business Insider. Look just 15 years into the future, and Boston Consulting Group estimates that over 12 million fully self-driving vehicles will be sold each year by 2035.
Yet amid this industry-wide push, there’s a risk that we could lose sight of how people will react to the technology; particularly those who enjoy or feel a sense of empowerment driving their vehicles.
Nearly a third of Americans say they’d never buy a fully driverless car. Some of this resistance may be fear of the unknown, and anxieties about technological change in the automotive industry are not new.
Take the introduction of airbags: the idea of an explosion taking place in front of a driver was met with initial criticism, but there is overwhelming evidence that the devices are effective at saving lives and preventing serious injury, and are now commonplace. But there is also the important consideration that some people simply enjoy the practice of driving.
Accordingly, the concept of driverless vehicles is more complicated for companies that sell cars largely on the basis that people will love the experience of driving them, from BMW and Mercedes to MacLaren.
Interestingly these manufacturers are increasingly looking at autonomous in new terms, using driverless technology to optimise cars and increase their performance, rather than limit it.
This new approach to driverless technology would allow drivers to relinquish control of their vehicles during the morning rush hour when driving is more than a pain than a pleasure, and use the same telematics-enabled autonomous tech to enhance their car’s performance when they’re on an open road.
Take the Porsche Panamera, set for launch in Spring 2017, which uses driverless technology to enhance the overall driving experience, not replace it. The car will come equipped with radar and video sensors to optimise a driver’s speed, learn route preferences and alert them to available parking bays.
Audi, too, is this year launching its first car with embedded driverless tech. Even Toyota, unveiling its Concept-I vehicle at CES 2017 which grows and learns about the driver, has recognised that a car with self-driving features can be built for people who fundamentally enjoy being behind the wheel.
Getting your driving licence has long been a rite of passage, but the demographics are shifting. A recent survey suggests 44% of 25- to 34-year-olds are comfortable letting a car do the driving, compared to an average of 36% across all other age groups. But the fact remains that for those who enjoy the physical act of driving, telematics-enabled autonomous technology looks set to improve their experience, not curtail it.