“Real Enthusiasts Drive Their Own Cars”

As someone who is undeniably immersed in both physical and online car communities (and having blogged about both on several occasions) I have had extensive experience with both past and modern technologies. My first car was from 1962, it had no airbags, no power steering, no power brakes, a cable based clutch, manual transmission, and carbureted fuel supply as opposed to modern electronic fuel injection. Despite the almost primitive nature of this car, the experience of driving it was best described as raw, with the driver in complete control. Alternatively, I recently had experienced my most modern car to date with a 2013 Abarth 500. This car had an anti-lock braking system (ABS), an automatic transmission, reverse parking sensors, disk brakes, Bluetooth, airbags, power steering, and most importantly an engine control unit (ECU), which amongst other things, would prevent the driver from shifting gears at a time it did not deem safe and would not let the car start without the brake pedal being depressed. The Abarth, although fun, was a much less raw experience with all of the modern conveniences technology has provided in order to make driving ‘easier’.There is no debate on the direction the modern car industry is heading, with vehicles now provided with more bells and whistles than ever. Shockingly, the most advanced technologies are starting to provide self-driving capabilities with production through manufacturers such as Google and Tesla. The notion of autonomous cars has existed for decades, in both science fiction and the minds of technological visionaries alike. However, in a car community where people are readily chastised, and accused of not ‘being a real enthusiast’ for driving an automatic transmission over a manual, how will this community treat the notion of autonomous cars?

fiat vs notch(1962 Volkswagen Notchback vs 2013 Abarth 500)

Although the designs for the first autonomous vehicle can be traced to Davinci’s Self Driving Cart, the public began to pay attention in the 1939 world’s fair in which manufacturer General Motors (GM) envisioned a reality in which cars would drive themselves. GM soon began testing such technologies in 1958, allowing  cars to roll “along the two-lane check road and negotiated the banked turn-around loops at either end without the driver’s hands on the steering wheel.” (Vanderbilt, 2012). Science fiction has also had an infatuation with autonomous cars as well. A clear example to me was Will Smith’s auto-pilot enabled Audi in I-Robot. However, KITT from Knight Rider, the Autobots from Transformers, and J and K’s car from Men in Black are also adequate examples. What is common from all of these examples, fictional and realistic is their perception. Just like the 1939 World’s fair, KITT from Knight Rider was seen as a technological marvel with the public in awe at the idea of this technology. The reality of public perception however, is something much different.

In 2011 Volkswagen began releasing cars with self-parking capabilities to increase driver convenience.

Similarly, in 2015 Volvo released vehicles with automatic braking capabilities in order to increase road safety.

These became massive milestones in the car industry in a step to autonomous vehicles. However, the disbelief from the gentleman in the first video, and the clear fault in the second video show a clear issue. Accidents can happen, and people blame technology. Just like with the advent of the internet, the general public hold an inherent fear of new technology, regardless of what it is. (It should be noted in the case of the Volvo, the driver of the vehicle had forgotten to turn on the automatic braking function. Genius.)

Teslas are undeniably, the latest in autonomous technologies, with their fully electric vehicles holding semi-autopilot capabilities. However, although some early adopters have embraced the technology, many have been quick to doubt its safety as inspired by stories such as that of Joshua Brown. Brown, on May 7th, 2016, suffered a fatal accident in His Tesla Model S while utilising the auto-pilot function, when a tractor-trailer driver made a left turn directly in front of his car so the car travelled beneath the trailer before hitting two fences and a power pole (Abrams, and Kurtz, 2016). Similarly, one of Google’s self-driving cars was also in an accident in September last year after it was T-Boned by another driver who had run a red light (Gibbs, 2016). Both of these events came at the hands of human error (or though some have argued Brown’s Tesla had failed to apply the brakes in his situation), but they have nevertheless served to shake the public’s confidence in the technology. Arguments have appeared that this technology does not have the ‘intuition’ that a human driver can hold. I for one follow my Dad’s driving advice religiously: “Drive like everyone else is an asshole”. Regulation to autonomous cars may also be affected accordingly, with the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration in the US yet to place adequate laws in relation to fully autonomous technologies beyond basic street testing, not recognising Tesla’s as fully autonomous unlike concepts by Uber and Ford (Mott, 2016).

The perception of autonomous cars in today’s society appears very mixed. On the one hand, car enthusiasts perceive it as an inferior method of transportation, while early adopters perceive it as the future. The general public however still appears very sceptical towards this technology, with most disregarding it as unsafe. In researching this topic further I will attempt to understand each of these perceptions in greater depth in order to truly determines why, and how these audiences feel the way they do.  In researching these perceptions further, I will attempt to incorporate both my personal experience further and that of others in order to be presented in a Vlog/video. Ultimately, this will provide a greater understanding of the topic, and a possible hypothesis on their future perception.

  References:                                                                                                                                                Abram, R & Kurtz, A 2016, ‘Joshua Brown, Who Died in Self-Driving Accident, Tested Limits of His Tesla’, The New York Times, 1st July 2016, accessed 12th March 2017, https://www.nytimes.com/2016/07/02/business/joshua-brown-technology-enthusiast-tested-the-limits-of-his-tesla.html?_r=0

Mott, N 2016, ‘ How a Fatal Tesla Crash Could Shape America’s Autonomous Car Laws’, Inverse innovation, September 1st, accessed 12th March 2017, https://www.inverse.com/article/20384-regulating-self-driving-cars-is-like-whack-a-mole

Vanderbilt, T 2012, ‘Autonomous Cars Through the Ages’, Wired, 2nd June, accessed 12th March 2017, https://www.wired.com/2012/02/autonomous-vehicle-history/

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