As Uber and Tesla have had to learn the hard way, it only takes a little bad press or negative exposure from mainstream media and public trust towards autonomous vehicles goes straight ..”out of the window”. Ford has taken that lesson to heart, claiming recently that it would rather instill confidence in self-driving cars than be first to produce them or introduce them to the market. In a letter to the US Department of Transportation (DoT) and 44-page report called “A Matter of Trust,” the automaker detailed how it plans to safely test its self-driving vehicles on public roads whilst obviously also using this to instill trust in their customers that their safety comes first.
Why such focus on trust specifically? The death of a pedestrian involving a Uber self-driving vehicle with a safety driver in particular had a very negative impact on public’s opinion of self-driving cars. Prior to that, 44% of US adults said they’d be okay riding in autonomous cars according to a US Study. However, a more recent Pew survey showed that three-quarters of participants would rather not be owners of autonomous vehicles and half said they could never see themselves acquiring a self-driving car in their life.
Automakers and tech companies like Mercedes, Toyota, Waymo and others have heavily invested in the industry and hence such news did not ring well in their ears which prompted them all to halt their vehicle testing on public roads for fear of a repeat event. Toyota and NVIDIA, have also temporarily ceised testing following the Uber accident.
Ford provided a fair amount of detail about their efforts in not only safety but general manufacturing of their autonomous vehicles, showing how they would not only train safety drivers but also tech them how to use unique systems they would create to handle system malfunctions, hacking and accidents. All of its self-driving cars will have black box-like “Event Data Recorders,” similar to what all aeroplanes have today and as they noted “it’s about a holistic strategy to reduce the risk of failures and protect people in case something does go wrong”.
Currently, Ford is testing self driving cars in many places including Miami and working with companies such as Postmates and Domino‘s Pizza . At the same time, it plans to start producing self-driving cars without steering wheels by 2021, later than other automakers, whereas companies like TESLA and GENERAL MOTORS are looking to launch such vehicles of their own by no later than 2020.
Our view is that even though this is a great approach by Ford that most definitely fits in well with the PR side of the industry too, however it does not help build trust in the autonomous industry. On the contrary, it makes major players (including themselves) look somewhat “amateurish” and too impulsive to move in a market they do not know enough about. The reality is, like in all new industries, there are going to be accidents at start as technology is still being tested and altered regularly to fit ever evolving needs and regulations. Companies (including Ford) need to focus more on showing clear examples of how their technology works and help to slowly start building trust with the public whilst immersing their technology in our daily lives.
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