In the past year, many of the conversations around autonomous vehicles (AVs) have been dominated by the same question: When will self-driving cars be the norm on public roads?
While industry leaders talked a big game on AVs monopolizing our roads back in 2016, today some experts have put widespread Level 4 adoption over a decade away. However, even that timeline only works if automakers overcome significant barriers — both technical and behavioral. The challenge of bringing AVs to consumers will be tougher than anticipated, with a central part of the effort being focused on earning the public’s trust.
Consumer confidence and mass adoption of AVs go hand in hand. To meet the projected timelines and start building this critical trust today, automakers should accelerate the adoption of autonomous capabilities into advanced driver assistance systems (ADAS).
The challenges facing current ADAS technologies
The truth is that consumers do not yet trust the ADAS capabilities in their vehicles. A 2021 AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety survey found that 80% of drivers wanted current vehicle safety systems, like automatic emergency braking and lane-keeping assistance, to work better, noting the lack of confidence consumers feel around current offerings.
While consumers seem to be aware that AV technologies are advancing quickly, this lack of trust from users will be a major barrier to full adoption and can pose a threat to the industry — no matter how far along the technology develops.
Despite significant recent advancements in the industry, including announcements from Cruise gaining permission to give rides in driverless test vehicles to passengers in California, AAA studies indicate that still only one in 10 drivers would be comfortable riding in a self-driving car. While consumers seem to be aware that AV technologies are advancing quickly, this lack of trust from users will be a major barrier to full adoption and can pose a threat to the industry — no matter how far along the technology develops.
To aid in building the public’s confidence, the industry must focus today on more advanced and reliable ADAS to meet consumer demands. However, current offerings face major challenges that must be resolved before the majority of consumers will get on board:
Lack of reliability in common adverse conditions: Technologies including lidar and camera are limited to what they can “see” around them. These systems can be easily obstructed by snow, dirt and debris covering the vehicle’s sensors. Additionally, without clear, crisp lane markings — in the event of snow, heavy rainfall or off-road conditions — or strong GPS signals, the typical sensors tracking vehicle location will not function properly.
Poor detection: There have been several cases where ADAS technologies have been unable to detect degraded lane markings, pedestrians, other vehicles or common on-road objects, resulting in injury and even death for drivers and pedestrians.
Low understanding by the general public: While some ADAS features are designed to operate independently, there is still a consistent lack of public knowledge when it comes to understanding how to best utilize the systems’ abilities to maximize safety. This lack of awareness poses an unnecessary threat to drivers who inadvertently misuse the technology as well as to those with whom they share the roads.
Addressing these challenges and creating better automated driving experiences for consumers is a critical step to mass adoption of future AV technology. The most immediate opportunity to move the needle with consumer acceptance in this area is to target improving reliability and user experience — especially with dynamic vehicle safety systems. To do so, automated and autonomous vehicles need improved sensors and software that enhance today’s systems and, as a result, boost consumer confidence in the safety of automated capabilities.
A fresh perspective on vehicle positioning
In the last decade, the industry has made various advancements in positioning systems, which locate a vehicle to the centimeter on roadways and are critical additions to traditional hardware stacks. As a result, experts have been placing bets on technologies such as ground-penetrating radar and novel mapping techniques as the final missing piece to robust vehicle positioning due to their ability to operate in adverse driving conditions and navigate highly dynamic environments.
While it is clear there are different avenues AVs can take to increase their reliability on the road, automakers are still trying to determine which approach can unlock the change in performance required for broad adoption.
When taking a closer look at the differentiators that make these technologies stand out, a common thread is how they address three critical issues: the absence of roadside features such as on open highways, within parking lots or when a car is boxed in by trucks and vision is limited; the reliance of camera-based systems on clear, consistent lane markings; and quickly changing environments in which the scene on the surface looks different from one moment to the next and HD maps quickly become unusable. These common challenges have left consumers frustrated with inconsistent and unreliable ADAS features.
One way to overcome these critical gaps is to explore other avenues for reliable vehicle positioning such as ground-penetrating radar — which allows vehicles to determine their precise location in adverse weather or in rough terrain, amid poor GPS availability and other common barriers faced by automated systems today — to show improved autonomy is possible. By adding these novel approaches into vehicles, automakers can create more reliable and accurate ADAS features — safeguarding the automated driving experience.
Leaning on ADAS as a vehicle for consumer confidence and mass AV adoption
A recent study from Partners for Automated Vehicle Education (PAVE) found that consumers familiar with ADAS technology were more likely to feel positive about autonomous cars and that 75% who currently own a vehicle with ADAS features say they are excited about future safety technology. This shows consumer engagement in today’s ADAS features can lead to more positive attitudes on tomorrow’s AV adoption.
As an industry, where do we go from here? Many are finding that there is a unique opportunity to resolve the future issues of autonomous vehicle operations by attacking them head-on in present-day ADAS systems -- where they will otherwise be a future problem that will block mass adoption.
We need to address these critical issues with ADAS technologies and create better driving experiences to earn the public's trust. By using higher-performing ADAS as a pathway to mass AV adoption, we can arrive at the destination safely.
The industry, along with consumers, can build a safe autonomous future.