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Who’s Afraid of Self-Driving Cars?

By: Bridget Clerkin August 31, 2017
Intel recently asked 10 ordinary citizens to test self-driving technology to see how comfortable they'd be riding in an autonomous vehicle.

Change may be the world’s only constant, but that doesn’t make accepting it easy.

The introduction of self-driving cars will completely redesign the world, making the impending technological takeover a prospect as exhilarating as it is frightening.

To better gauge which end of that emotional spectrum people are leaning toward when it comes to such a momentous shift, tech giant Intel conducted a study putting everyday citizens inside an autonomous vehicle. (A producer of the semiconductors integral to the advancement of self-driving cars, Intel has a huge stake in public opinion on driverless autos.)

And regardless of how plugged-in the world has become, the findings show at least one piece of age-old wisdom is still true: The scariest thing, to most people, is the unknown.

Participants were interviewed before, during, and after their autonomous trips, which began by summoning the vehicle through an app, to mimic a future world dominated by ridesharing.

But no matter how they felt about the technology before stepping into the car, each participant gave the robo-driver a happy endorsement at the end of the day. (The catch: only 10 people were brought in for the experiment—although Intel told Endgadget they plan on expanding the study.)

Regardless of the small sample size, however, the participants were in agreement about key aspects of the experience.

Knowledge is power, but too much of it was distracting for Intel’s riders. The company reported most participants asking for limited information on the car’s automated systems, saying too many alerts or communications would become bothersome in the future. Safety reminders, however, would continue to be helpful and reassuring, all agreed.

Similarly, most riders wanted to extend that blind trust to the vehicle’s controls. They told Intel that seeing the steering wheel turn on its own was unnerving, and said they’d rather not have a steering wheel at all. (In a happy coincidence for those participants, the design of the vehicles has been moving in a steering wheel-free direction for some time.)

Still, they said they enjoyed gaining control over other aspects of the ride, such as the ability to summon and unlock a vehicle through a mobile device, which Intel said helped offset the stress participants felt over not driving.

And while most participants listed the lack of accountability from an absentee driver as a concern, many said they would feel more comfortable with the idea of the cars transporting lone children, without the worry of a stranger behind the wheel.

Intel said it’s hopeful other anxieties could be cured by the technology, as well.

Those still worried about the vehicles hitting the streets at all, however, will just have to ride out their fear—perhaps in the back of a self-driving car.

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