Most companies in the automotive industry are working to develop some element of autonomous driving or support for such a capability. However, we have a bit of a conundrum about our migration to an autonomous future.

At this point it is fair to say that we are investing billions of dollars in myriad solutions that will together deliver autonomous driving to the world in the near future. While the investment is mind-blowing, investment isn’t the problem. The problem is a lack of consumer confidence with autonomous driving — many consumers are afraid to let a car take the wheel.

In AAA’s 2019 annual automated vehicle survey, 71 percent of respondents stated that they are afraid to ride in fully self-driving vehicles. This percentage increased from 64 percent in 2018 after several high-profile automated-vehicle incidents. J.D. Power detailed a similar finding in its 2019 Mobility Confidence Index Study where consumer comfort with riding in self-driving vehicles scored a low index of 34 on a 100-point scale.

For all of us to succeed with autonomous driving, we need to dramatically improve the current perception. The best means to improve consumer sentiment with this new and seemingly intimidating technology, is to experience it safely. AAA identified that experience with “partially or fully automated vehicle technology will help remove some of the mystery for consumers and open the door for greater acceptance.”

To address consumer perceptions and pave the way to our autonomous future we have a call to action to improve the consumer experience with automated, or automated-like features, leveraging advanced driver assistance systems, or ADAS. Many such features are available today, and these features constitute the building blocks for autonomous driving.

How to begin

We must start by optimizing ADAS usability in the feature development phase followed by advancing analytics for ongoing product insights and improvement on in-market vehicles.

As an entry point, a number of Level 0 features can introduce to consumers the feeling of vehicle-aided driving, primarily with alerts or warnings. Examples include traffic sign recognition (with visual or audible warnings), lane-departure warnings, curve speed warnings, hazard alerts, blindspot warnings and rear cross-traffic alerts.

However, it is with Level 1 and 2 systems where consumers start to truly experience the benefits of automated vehicle control. These systems typically deliver driving benefits in terms of collision prevention, safe lane navigation and safe distance maintenance.

For collision prevention, systems such as autonomous emergency braking and cross-traffic assist enable the vehicle to initiate an emergency braking maneuver before a frontal or rear impact is about to occur in order to avoid or reduce the consequences of a crash. As these are systems designed specifically for emergencies, it is intended that drivers have minimal experience with these automated features. However, these features enhance consumer confidence in the vehicle’s ability to ensure the safety of passengers, pedestrians and other vehicles.

Lane navigation

Features that help navigate lanes give drivers the best firsthand, and potentially most frequent, exposure to the feeling of automated driving. For example, lane-keeping assist systems control the steering function to maintain the vehicle position in the lane, and lane-changing assist safely changes the vehicle’s lane when the driver engages the turn signal.

Systems that maintain a vehicle’s safe driving distance, such as adaptive cruise control and predictive cruise control, enable the vehicle to automatically adjust its cruising speed based on other vehicles on the road ahead or to anticipate changes of terrain (such as slope) that will affect driving and efficiency.

These automated systems help further extend the feeling of convenience and safety in the vehicle as automation supplements to routine driving tasks.

Increasing usage of these Level 1 and 2 features is critical to improving consumer comfort and autonomous adoption. As an industry, we need to increase usability testing now to optimize these features for consumer comfort as a priority after safety.

A recent J.D. Power U.S. Tech Experience Index Study found that some consumers turn off their ADAS features due to their annoyance with bothersome alerts. There is a learning curve for all of us, as well as a balancing act to ensure the features we develop are helpful vs. bothersome.

Addressing alert fatigue will be crucial. As developers of this technology, we need to give consumers alert options where possible, haptic vs. audible for instance, to give consumers a more intuitive experience.

Learn from consumer usage

In addition, these features can be improved over time with insights on consumer usage on in-market vehicles. As vehicle connectivity becomes standard and sensor data streams become more available, analytics can surface usage patterns and insights to help us determine feature improvement opportunities, and where we need deeper analysis. Real-time insights from ADAS feature analytics enable the industry to address consumer comfort over time and will prove critical to driving long-term AV receptivity.

In the competitive road to autonomy, time is of the essence. How quickly these insights are applied to improve ADAS usability will drive the time frame for full AV adoption.

For instance, some automakers may use these insights for the next model year’s enhancements, while others will choose to lean in with in-market vehicle updates.

Regardless of the path chosen, in order for the market to be ready for autonomous driving, these Level 1 and 2 ADAS features must gain mass-market adoption. Only then will consumers become comfortable riding in and operating around automated vehicles.