Driverless cars – which technologies do drivers really want?

" Wheelin' it " by  MattBenson  is licensed under  CC BY 2.0

"Wheelin' it" by MattBenson is licensed under CC BY 2.0

One of the longer-term challenges facing the autonomous car sector is the need to educate motorists about the benefits of driverless cars.

Those benefits don't just include being able to read a book or watch a film on your way home from work. It's also important for car-makers to show drivers how their motoring experience is likely to change as different levels of driverless automation are introduced.

At the moment, many motorists view driverless cars as something of a science fiction fantasy – an interesting concept, but one unlikely to arrive for several decades.

But, as car manufacturers introduce greater automation and motorists start to enjoy the benefits of new self-driving technologies, people's awareness of (and even support for) these technologies will increase.


What do motorists think of driverless technologies?

survey earlier this year by J.D. Power shed some light on what motorists think of the technologies used in driverless cars. For example, younger drivers (Generation Y and Generation X) have a substantially higher preference for fully automated self-driving technology than older motorists, according to the study.

In contrast, more experienced motorists are apparently happy to accept technologies that improve road safety, but aren't yet ready to give up complete control of their cars. Instead, they would like tools that can help alleviate some of the frustrations of driving, such as traffic jam assist. 

Among the technologies that people would like to see in their next vehicle, the ones that interest drivers the most are those related to collision protection, found the survey.

In particular, drivers would like their next cars to be fitted with blind spot detection and prevention systems, night vision technology and enhanced collision mitigation systems.

The survey also discovered that the most in-demand technologies are those that reduce the overall driving burden and enhance vehicle safety. The findings suggest that if a technology can take over some of the more critical driving functions, such as steering and braking, it will be a hit with drivers. 

There is a tremendous interest in collision-protection technologies across all generations, which creates opportunities across the market.
— Kristin Kolodge, executive director of driver interaction & HMI research at J.D. Power

Of less interest to drivers were advanced sensor technologies, such as hand-gesture-controlled seats, biometric driver sensors and haptic touch screens.

Drivers across all price segments also had a low preference for navigation technologies – perhaps reflecting the wide range of mapping and navigation tools already available via smartphones and tablets.

A generational shift

One survey finding that's a potential boon for self-driving car manufacturers and investors is that the younger generation are willing to spend more on vehicle technology.

While Boomers and Pre-Boomers are willing to spend $2,416 and $2,067 respectively on technology for their next vehicle, the study found that Generation X consumers are willing to spend $3,007, with Generation Y consumers prepared to pay as much as $3,703.

As motoring starts to shift from a predominantly human model to one in which automation plays a much bigger role, manufacturers will welcome the idea that younger drivers may be willing to pay more for the privilege. 

The interest in fully-automated self-driving technologies among the younger generation is also good news for the development of driverless cars. These drivers are the ones who will be choosing vehicles for decades to come, and their preferences are likely to influence car-makers' plans for the future.

Having grown up in a world of consumer electronics and growing automation, it's possible that younger motorists are simply more comfortable with technology playing a greater role on the roads.

But, having seen the changes that apps and automation have brought to other industries, it's also possible that they're starting to understand the real benefits of being able to hand over driving responsibilities to a computer.

J.D. Power's 2015 'U.S. Tech Choice Study' was conducted between January and March 2015 among more than 5,300 consumers who had bought or leased a new vehicles in the previous five years. The study measured preference for and perceived value of 59 advanced vehicle features across six categories: entertainment and connectivity; comfort and convenience; collision protection; driving assistance; navigation; and energy efficiency.