An autonomous car isn't only a subject of science fiction anymore. Tesla has half-launched it with mixed success, and Apple is reportedly trying to bite the pie. There are more than 30 carmakers racing towards making self-driving cars.
Now comes the big question -- are we comfortable accepting autonomous technology? Would you feel prepared to accept that the car next to yours is driving itself?
A recent survey conducted among 1,500 UK motorists finds that majority of people may feel uncomfortable using an autonomous vehicle (AV) or driving alongside one.
Dr Chris Tennant, who led the study for London School of Economics and Political Science, explains, "AVs are not simply another new technology. They are a technology that is gradually emerging into an intensely social space. It is therefore no surprise that a wide range of factors influence the public's levels of openness towards them."
The survey, commissioned by tyre maker Goodyear, reports that only 25 per cent of the respondents feel comfortable using AVs, whereas 28 percent feel comfortable driving alongside an AV. About 55 per cent respondents, however, aren't open to the idea of using an AV or driving alongside it.
For the respondents, the key factor is safety. The study reveals that 44 per cent respondents feel confident about AVs, saying that "machines don't have emotions, so they might be better drivers than humans", whereas 41 per cent think "most accidents are caused by human error, so autonomous vehicles will be safer".
The biggest concern, however, is how AVs will interact with human drivers on the road. The survey suggests that 64 per cent of the respondents aren't ready to blindly believe technology and feel that there needs to be a human driver in control of the vehicle, and 78 per cent respondents believe that an AV should have a steering wheel too.
The research concludes that the commuters who find co-operating with other drivers easier are doubtful about the technology and the ones who find driving stressful are more open to autonomous vehicles.
Times are changing fast, and it is pretty clear that autonomous vehicles will, within decades, be the dominant form of land-based human transportation. We are standing in front of the first wave today. The transition phase, where human-driven and autonomous cars have to co-exist, will be fraught with conflict both real and perceived. But human beings adapt rapidly. Within a couple of generations, it will probably be human drivers who will be seen with apprehension and doubt. Thankfully, the autonomous drivers will probably not respond to surveys.