Ford recently published their 2018 Trends report, which revealed that only 52% of Australians are hopeful about the use of autonomous vehicles in the future – a stark contrast to some of the other countries in the report.
“The global average is 61% supporting it, but the numbers really vary in an extraordinary fashion,” says Sheryl Connelly, Ford Motor Company’s Futurist, and the author of the report.
“The country that’s most hopeful about the future of autonomous vehicles is China, at 83%. India comes in at 81%, and Brazil not too far behind at 75%. But then there’s a pretty big drop when you go down to Australia.”
Although Connelly couldn’t offer a definitive answer on the disparity, she did speculate.
“China and India are two of the most populated countries in the world, and with that population density comes extraordinary congestion and gridlock. In a city like Beijing, which as 23 million people, you would have a daily commute [of] five hours. So the prospect of having someone drive you around, either by machine or hiring someone, is something that could have a substantial impact on how you spend your day.”
She continues, “I also think it’s a market there that doesn’t have the same infrastructure of roads, so we know the rates of accidents and road fatalities are higher in those markets, which you would expect because of the population density, and correlation of how big the market is.”
When it comes to Australia’s perspective, she believes that a sense of self comes into play. This is also backed by the report’s numbers, which reveal that The United States, Canada and The United Kingdom had far less hope in autnomous vehicles as well – all coming in at 50% or less.
“In the Western world, the so called rich world, [we] have a much longer history and deeper foundation of seeing a car as an extension of one’s identity. I hear it from one of my colleagues who loves cars, who says ‘no way will I ever get in an autonomous vehicle. I love the thrill of driving far too much to ever turn it over to someone else.’
While that may be true, convenience may just be what convinces Westerners in the end. “As I’m talking to you right now, I had to pull over in a parking lot so I could have all my paperwork in front of me. If I were in an autonomous vehicle, I would be home by now. I think that if there’s practical reasons, the appeal is great.”
The argument in favour of autonomous vehicles may also be found in increased urbanisation. Ford’s report also reveals that 54% of the world’s population currently live in urban areas, and that number may be as high as 66% by 2050. Identity and a love for driving is all well and good… until you’re facing a mobility crisis.
“It’s very easy to imagine [autonomous vehicles] as a black and white issue, like ‘Oh, when autonomous comes, it’s going to change the world as we know it.’ That may be true, but it’s going to happen in pockets of the world long before it happens in other parts of the world. It will not be evenly distributed. It will go according to context, because it’s a context driven solution. The success of the autonomous vehicle will be dependent on how much its a reflection of the society that it’s trying to serve.”
Hopefully that reflection will be one of a society that is committed to finding dynamic, convenient and green solutions where possible. But considering the rapid rate of urban growth and congestion we’re already facing in Australia – we need to be working on those solutions now.