Is large-scale adoption of self-driving cars really just around the corner?
I watched a replay of the French TV show 'C dans l'air' last night.
The topic of the day was: "Computer takes the steering wheel: one death" – a title referring to a fatal accident involving a test vehicle in the Uber fleet and a cyclist. While twenty or so players have invested massively in the development of driverless technology (such as Google, Tesla and Volvo), I wonder whether consumers are ready to adopt it on a large-scale.
A QUESTION OF TIMING
Google Glass was a flop despite initial enthusiasm. And yet you see more and more people on the street glued to the screens of their smartphones as they watch their favourite series on their way to work or home. So would it not be a good idea to revive the Google Glass concept? Such a device would mean they wouldn't have to walk around with a smartphone or tablet in their hands and could keep an eye on their surroundings, to avoid walking into a lamp post or fellow commuter. What about driverless cars? Is this technology arriving at the right time?
A CULTURAL ISSUE
The experts on the TV show 'C dans l’air' agreed that emerging markets offer the most favourable conditions for the rapid adoption of self-driving cars. This is not surprising, given the high mobile phone penetration rates in these markets. For example, we often hear about the increased use of devices in Asia, and in China in particular, where the story of local authorities creating pedestrian lanes for people addicted to their screens made it around the world. Having lived in Shanghai, I saw first-hand how technology use changes much faster than in Europe. People use their mobile phones to pay almost everywhere, even the smallest restaurants, by scanning a QR code or sending red envelopes to other people via an app (WeChat, Alipay). People are less enthusiastic in France: "Are the transactions secure ? I would worry about having my account details stolen." There are contrasting reactions to new technology. While people in the West tend to need reassurance about available solutions, people in emerging countries dive in without a second thought. Elsewhere, in Latin European countries, such as France, driving is seen as a pleasurable activity. Automatic cars are not very popular and it is important for people to feel they are controlling their vehicles. It is difficult to see how people in France will hand the steering wheel over to AI.
SO, WHAT CAN WE EXPECT IN FRANCE?
While we may well see large-scale adoption of driverless technology in a certain segment of the population (provided perhaps that prices allow it to be widely accessible), it seems that development of the technology in France will not be so smooth and may require several stages.