Home' Open Road North Shore : OR1117 Contents Gaining the right amount of trust is the major impediment for
autonomous cars, says NRMA Director and author Rachel Botsman
The self-driving problem
nobody is talking about
iCar evokes trust with
its cute design.
THE FIRST TIME the elevator went
driverless, many took one look at these
tiny metal boxes, plummeting freely
through space, and had the same
reaction: ‘There’s no way I’m getting into
that thing. Not without a driver!’
The idea of an elevator without a driver
was initially dismissed as risky – or even
crazy. To encourage people to step inside
them, they had to be persuaded to take a
‘ trust leap’. And it’s the very same trust
leap that people will need to take to get
inside self-driving cars.
A trust leap happens when we take a
risk and do something in a new or
fundamentally different way. This could
be something monumental, like the first
time you entered your credit card details
online; or more incremental, like
switching from paper to online invoicing.
Let’s not pretend otherwise: a lot of
persuasion needs to happen to get to the
widespread adoption of autonomous
vehicles – and the real hurdle is
psychological. As with elevators, these
are big moving things that could kill us.
Trust-centred design in new technology
has two common features: first, it gives
some control back to the user. In the case
of the elevator, it was the big red ‘stop’
button. Self-driving car manufacturers
are building in functions for humans to
turn off or take over the machine.
Second, it personifies the technology
to make it seem more human or harmless.
In the case of elevators, there was the
calming bland music, the soft female
voice announcing floors and an ad
campaign depicting children pressing
elevator buttons with their granny. A self-
driving car can do this in several ways: its
shape can be round and cute; its design
can make you feel fuzzy, not intimidated;
and it can include elements that are
redundant but increase the feeling of
familiarity, such as a rear-view mirror.
Personifying the vehicle and often
gendering it female also increases trust.
Recent studies by Northwestern
University’s Kellogg School of
Management showed that when
participants were put inside an automated
car called Iris, who spoke to them, their
trust of the vehicle was significantly
higher in comparison to participants who
rode her identical but anonymous and
Australians already seem surprisingly
keen to trust a self-driving car. Our
attitudes appear quite advanced,
compared with American drivers. Three
out of four drivers in the US said they’d
feel afraid to ride in self-driving cars and
84 per cent said this was because they
trusted their own driving skills more
than the technology, according to a
survey conducted by the American
Automobile Association (AAA) in 2016.
Compare this with Australian
keenness. Seven in 10 Australians want
a self-driving car to take over when they
feel tired or bored. Just under half
already recognise autonomous vehicles
will be safer than a human driver,
according to a study conducted by the
Australian Driverless Vehicle Initiative.
But herein lurks an overlooked
challenge: not whether people will step
into the cars in the first place, but how
do you prevent people from trusting
them too quickly and too easily? For my
book, Who Can You Trust?, I interviewed
Dr Brian Lathrop, who works in VW’s
Electronics Research Lab. He told me
that, after about 20 minutes of shock
and awe at the automation of self-
driving cars, the experience feels
normal – even boring. He worries that
people will give away their trust too
easily – and nod off. “ When it comes to
autonomous cars, it’s a system. It’s a
machine. It’s not aware of everything,”
Last year in Florida, a Tesla Model S on
autopilot crashed into the side of a truck
and its passenger, 40-year-old Joshua
Brown, was killed. The truck driver
reported he could hear a Harry Potter
film playing when he approached the car.
Investigators found both a portable DVD
player and a laptop inside. In a blog post,
Tesla stated, “Neither the autopilot nor
the driver noticed the white side of the
tractor trailer against the brightly lit sky,
so the brake was not applied.”
For the automator, it was a rare error.
Brown’s is the only death so far in more
than three billion miles driven by Tesla’s
autonomous Autopilot driving feature.
For the human, it was an avoidable error.
If the trust leap had been made with
slightly more caution and alertness, the
driver might have avoided the crash.
We may be focusing on the wrong
thing in how to persuade people to
trust the self-driving car.
The more pressing
ironically, be whether
people will give
away their trust
Who Can You Trust?
is available now.
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20/10/17 6:22 pm
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