Autonomous vehicles - The future of transport: A brave new world?

  • 6,000 survey participants
  • 6 global territories
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The world is on the cusp of a transport revolution: one in which machines will increasingly take control from humans. That shift raises fundamental concerns around public safety and where the liability rests when accidents occur. It also means a major shift in the amount of data that is collected by vehicles, and how that data is stored and used. Faced with these challenges, the views of end-users will be integral to deciding the scale and speed at which markets choose to adopt autonomous vehicle technology.

Gearing up for this new era of transportation presents many challenges, which our report, Autonomous vehicles - The future of transport: A brave new world? explores in greater detail. With considerations across a range of transport sectors – road, rail, aviation and maritime – we have looked at how the application of autonomous vehicle technology across these will present unique obstacles and opportunities.

Research methodology

To help us assess the changing transport landscape, we commissioned Cicero Group to perform two phases of research. The first of these involved undertaking an online survey of over 6,000 adults across six markets – Australia, China, Hong Kong, Singapore, United Kingdom and United States – to help us assess the current state of public opinion in each jurisdiction and to identify common concerns and potential barriers to the adoption of new driverless technology.

The second phase consisted of undertaking a range of in-depth interviews with market practitioners across different transport sectors and industries to identify potential technical and legal obstacles to adopting the technology. Throughout the course of our research, we engaged senior practitioners across Australasia, Denmark, Singapore, UK and US representing the following sectors: Aviation, automotive/road, insurance, public transport and shipping.

Despite clear public acknowledgement of the fundamental changes taking place on our roads and transit routes, public acceptance of widespread autonomous vehicle technology is far from guaranteed.

Richard West, Partner

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Key findings

Strong support for increased autonomy - but support is qualified

Most people support the prospect of further automation of road vehicles, though there are fairly wide differences by market.

Public trust remains a key barrier

Many of the barriers cited by people not offering support for fully autonomous vehicles demonstrates that public understanding does not necessarily reflect the technological reality.

While there is clearly a public demand for semi-autonomous vehicles that retain the potential for human override, a significant minority of people within each market have concerns about this handover process.

People react differently to the range of forms of automated travel

When looking at different kinds of road transport – private car ownership, driverless taxis, commercial vehicles such as trucks travelling in platoons (the linking of two or more trucks in convoy) and driverless buses – there is very little difference within countries in levels of public comfort.

With regards to the transportation of people, we see people across countries generally more comfortable with the concept of automated rail systems – likely reflecting the wider adoption of this technology. The public are, however, less comfortable with the prospect of pilotless planes and ships.

People envisage a different future - but individual behaviours will be harder to change

In the research, we asked people to imagine how autonomous vehicles will fit into the world in 20 years’ time. Despite the barriers and the concerns, our research demonstrates clearly that people find it easy to imagine a very different transport system by the year 2039. Not only is there agreement regarding a changing technology, but also in terms of vehicle ownership, commuting and insurance patterns.

Alongside the many possible benefits - efficiency and lower emissions, public safety and greater social inclusion - there are a range of emerging risks for businesses and end-users.

Deborah Newberry, Head of Corporate and Public Affairs

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Practical considerations from industry

Clearly, views from the public give us an idea as to the communication challenges industry may face in the roll-out of autonomous vehicles on road and rail. However, our engagement with industry stakeholders outlined a number of practical considerations above and beyond public attitudes and perceptions.

Full autonomy is evolution rather than revolution

The speed at which technology is introduced will depend largely on political ambition (which naturally differs by market) and mode of transport (where predictability of other vehicles and pedestrians has a significant impact both on the technology and public perception).

Real-world environment testing

Pilot schemes do not offer manufacturers the opportunity to develop a strong enough evidence base to allay fears about wider roll-out. For this reason, full (Level 5) automation is not seen as something around the corner.

Overcoming cost barriers

The costs associated with modernising road infrastructure, particularly in rural settings, is still seen as prohibitive. There is potential here for the onus to then be put on the technology autonomous vehicles use, which will directly impact the cost of consumer vehicles.

Changing patterns of transport usage

With levels of car ownership expected to drop there is seen to be an opportunity to address the issue of the ‘first mile and last mile’ (i.e. the gap between public transport and departure point/destination) of commuter journeys. Autonomous public transport is seen to be a way to address this in a cost efficient manner.

Insurance premiums and data sharing

The political position in many markets is that increased autonomous vehicles will eventually drive down the cost of insurance premiums – both as a result of a reduction in accidents and reduced wear and tear. This will impact insurers financially. Yet, there is the issue of liability. Bottoming out this will rely on open and transparent data sharing between manufacturers, insurers and law enforcement organisations, though the necessary data infrastructure is yet to be developed.

Impact on workforces

Increased automation may positively impact businesses in haulage and public transport, where skills and labour shortages are common. However, with vehicles controlled by people, there remains the risk of human fatigue and boredom over longer journeys, meaning they are less prepared to take back control of the vehicle if required. Moreover, the concept of computers replacing human jobs is something that, politically, is a difficult sell.

Focus area

Autonomous vehicles

As a new era of transport continues to unfold, we're here to keep you up to date on the latest developments and what they mean for you and your business.

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