Audi study has identified five distinct types when it comes to accepting self-driving cars. Picture: SUPPLIED
Audi study has identified five distinct types when it comes to accepting self-driving cars. Picture: SUPPLIED

As the world heads closer to self-driving cars, motor companies are testing the waters to see how humans will take to the concept of handing over control of a vehicle to a computer.

Since 2015, Audi has been examining the social acceptance of autonomous driving. It has identified five distinct user typologies in its latest online study called “The Pulse of Autonomous Driving” in conjunction with market research institute Ipsos, which interviewed 21,000 people in nine countries.

The study, which is part of the “&Audi” initiative, investigated how rational arguments, emotions, values and lifestyles shape attitudes to autonomous driving.

It shows that young, high-earning and well-educated “status-oriented trendsetters” and “tech-savvy passengers” most look forward to autonomous driving. Among “suspicious drivers”, who tend to be older with a lower level of income and education, scepticism is dominant.

The “safety-oriented reluctant” would use autonomous driving only when others have gained experience with the technology. The largest user group are the “open-minded co-pilots”, who are fundamentally open to autonomous driving as long as they can take control at any time.

“This study is more than just a welcome addition to our knowledge about the phenomenon of autonomous driving,” says Dr Luciano Floridi, professor of Philosophy and Ethics of Information and director of the Digital Ethics Lab, University of Oxford, and member of the scientific network of the initiative “&Audi”.

“It is a necessary step for any policy- and lawmaking decision, as well as any R&D and business strategy that intends to be proactive and informed in delivering a better world.”

The emotional landscape on autonomous driving produces a mixed picture. On the one hand, internationally there is strong interest in (82%) and curiosity about (62%) autonomous driving.

In the new technology, respondents see potential for the individual and society — from easier access to mobility (76%) and greater convenience (72%) to more safety (59%). More than half of respondents would like to test autonomous driving.

On the other hand, clear concerns also exist, above all the fear of loss of control (70% and unavoidable residual risks (66%), while 41% of respondents are suspicious of the technology.

The greatest willingness to hand over control relates to autonomous parking and traffic jams on highways. The level of knowledge about autonomous driving appears to be low: only 8% state that they can explain the subject.

The younger the respondents are and the higher their level of education and income, the more positive is their attitude to autonomous driving. Differences are also apparent between the countries that were investigated. The Chinese are euphoric, and South Koreans too are above-average in their positive view of the technology. In Europe the Spanish and Italians lead the field, Germans and French are relatively reserved as are the Americans, Japanese and British.

 “Automated and autonomous driving has the potential to improve our mobility substantially,” says Thomas Müller, head of Automated Driving at Audi: “On the way there, alongside technical development, it is of decisive importance to convince people. The study provides us with differentiated insights about where people stand in relation to autonomous driving and how we can establish suitable expectations about the new technology in society.”