“Real Enthusiasts Drive Their Own Cars” – Autonomous and the Enthusiast Perspective

 

In first approaching my research towards the topic of autonomous cars I began looking at the various perspectives centred on the technology. In the wake of modern developments such as Tesla’s self-proclaimed “auto-pilot” function, there was no denying that the technology was here/fast approaching. As such, I decided as opposed to researching the potential future developments of autonomous cars, I would provide an in-depth analysis of the dominant perspectives and apply this to a large gap in the research. This gap came in the form of the ‘enthusiast perspective’ as through the course of my research I found very little information on the treatment of self-driving cars by automotive enthusiasts. Thus, my goal for this project was established in determining what this enthusiast perspective was after firmly establishing the current dominating perspectives, this being that of early adopters, and the concerned public. My two blog posts and final podcast have a natural progression as a result of this in first discussing and determining these dominant arguments, and then applying these towards my podcast. Each of the resources in my blog posts were used throughout my podcast in order to influence each of the questions asked to my interview respondents. These questions furthermore reflect the dominant arguments of the early adopter and concerned public perspective.

My first interview question based on the notion that autonomous cars would provide drivers with ‘greater convenience’ was influenced by engineering firm IBI Group’s 2017 report on the potential urban effects of autonomous vehicles. This document provided a series of arguments towards the adoption of autonomous cars, many of which centred around conveniences such as the effective use of commute time and the reduction of congestion (Mereu 2017). This report also provided a highly useful timeline predicting the adoption of autonomous technologies in the coming decades. The responses to this question were not surprising with each respondent discussing that they enjoy the activity of driving in itself, as such convenience was not a major impact in transport.

Safety was another factor mentioned in numerous sources such as that from IBI group and interestingly from the New South Wales Roads and Maritimes Services. This argument from the early adopter perspective was essentially that the bulk of car accidents are caused by driver error as opposed to mechanical failure, therefore with fewer drivers, there will be fewer accidents. This was a major argument presented by Mereu (2017)  quoting that 90% of accidents are caused by human fault, a statistic that is reflecting by the New South Wales Roads and Maritime Service (Roads and Maritimes Services, 2014). These sources informed my second interview question accordingly and provided several insights from my respondents including that although they can see this being a benefit for most drivers, they were more than willing to risk their lives with more dangerous vehicles.

My final question from the early adopter perspective was originally posed to me following my project update presentation with one student arguing for the potential for autonomous cars to positively impact those with disabilities is immense. I began to research this idea and found a paper produced by Securing America’s Future Energy, which discussed the potential benefits and employment opportunities that autonomous cars could provide disabled people (Claypool, Bin-Nun,  & Gerlach 2017). Huffington Post Author Jules Polonetski penned an article reflecting a similar argument claiming that autonomous vehicles have “the potential to halt this decline and hopefully allow more people with disabilities to go to work each day as these barriers to transportation are taken down by technology” (Polonetski, 2016). These sources were enough to determine that this was a highly important argument for the adopter perspective which ultimately produced some of the most interesting responses by my interviewees who all supported the use of the technology for this purpose.

Similarly to the early adopter perspective, I centred on three dominant arguments for the concerned public. The first came in discussing the potential effects of autonomous cars in impacting driving professionals, specifically taxi drivers and truckers.  This question was influenced by an outcry by the Upstate Transport Association who feared for their jobs after Uber began testing autonomous technologies in the United States (Macfarland 2017). The question on whether enthusiasts would use autonomous vehicles as opposed to driving professionals produced several unanticipated responses including that these enthusiasts did not often utilise driving professionals and that there was a greater concern for the parts and repair industry.

The question on failed technology was influenced by the first case of a user’s death while using an autonomous car, with Joshua Brown tragically dying in 2016 while driving his Tesla Model S.  A New York Times article by Abrams and Kurtz (2016) was utilised in discussing this incident within my podcast, as well as Mott’s (2016) discussion on how this accident may affect the regulations and testing of these vehicles. The enthusiasts all agreed that stringent testing on this technology is required, with Maddy specifically making an interesting analogy to how a computer can sometimes crash when you least expect it.

My final question was majorly influenced by popular culture texts such as I-Robot, Men in Black, and Transformers in discussing the use of the term autopilot. This question became quite a contentious topic in that despite fully autonomous cars being technically illegal, Tesla still markets their vehicles as having autopilot. This question was again influenced through Mott’s (2016) articles, as well as a short video with Jay Leno discussing the technology (Leno 2015). Although understood from a marketing perspective, the enthusiasts believed that the term auto-pilot is misleading as pop culture texts tend to imply that auto-pilot means the car can drive itself, thus a clear distinction is required between the terms ‘autonomous’ and ‘driver aid’.

I believe my podcast overall was very successful in meeting my initial goals of determining the enthusiast perspective to autonomous cars.  I also believe that the podcast format was highly useful in achieving this by allowing my respondents to feel more comfortable under microphone than under camera. I believe the progression from my two blogs to my podcast flowed naturally and did not feel disconnected, rather forming a three part series as my intention. The research undertaken from this topic was highly insightful for me on a personal level, and I feel that I was able to make an insightful contribution to the autonomous cars debate as a whole.

References:

2014, Driver Qualification Handbook, New South Wales Roads and Maritime Services, Sydney, New South Wales

Claypool, H, Bin-Nun, A & Gerlach, J 2017, SELF-DRIVING CARS: THE IMPACT ON PEOPLE WITH DISABILITIES, Securing America’s Future Energy, accessed 19th April 2017, http://secureenergy.org/wp-content/uploads/2017/01/Self-Driving-Cars-The-Impact-on-People-with-Disabilities_FINAL.pdf

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

Leno, J 2015, Jay Leno: Self-Driving Cars Aren’t REALLY Self-Driving, online video, 13th October, CNBC, viewed 19th April 2017, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=sHv_SMvg8nE

McFarland, M 2017, The backlash against self-driving cars officially begins, CNN, 10th January, accessed 9th April 2017, http://money.cnn.com/2017/01/10/technology/new-york-self-driving-cars-ridesharing/

Mereu, A 2017, A Driverless Future It’s not Just About the Cars, IBI Group, accessed 9th April 2017, http://www.ibigroup.com/wp-content/uploads/2017/01/IBI-THNK_CAV-Report_2017-01-25.pdf

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

Polonetski, J 2016, Self-Driving Cars: Transforming Mobility For The Elderly And People With Disabilities, Huffington Post, 24th October 2016, accessed 19th April 2017, http://www.huffingtonpost.com/jules-polonetsky/selfdriving-cars-transfor_b_12545726.html

 

 

 

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