In the next decade or so, there will be a shift in the industry of transportation across the world. Already today we have autonomous vehicles (AVs) tested in the Greater Phoenix area showing that the technology has improved to a level available to the public eye. Although this technology is not yet released commercially (for the most part), it is being used and will continue to be used to develop a safer future. With a high incidence of human error causing accidents, many expect that autonomous vehicles will be safer than human drivers. They do still require driver attention and sometimes intervention to ensure safety, but for the most part are much safer. In just the United States alone, there were 40,000 deaths due to car accidents last year . If traffic fatalities were considered a disease, this would be an epidemic. The technology behind autonomous vehicles will allow for a much safer environment and increased mobility and independence for people who cannot drive and struggle with public transport. There are many opportunities for autonomous vehicles in the transportation industry. Companies can save a lot more money on shipping by cutting the costs of human drivers and trucks on the road, even allowing for simpler drop shipments should the necessary AI be developed.Research is even being done by several labs at Arizona State University. For example, Dr. Spring Berman’s Autonomous Collective Systems Lab has been collaborating with Dr. Nancy Cooke of Human Systems Engineering to develop a traffic testbed, CHARTopolis, to study the risks of driver-AV interactions and the psychological effects of AVs on human drivers on a small scale. This testbed will be used by researchers from their labs and others to develop testing on reaction, trust, and user experience with AVs in a safe environment that simulates conditions similar to those experienced by full-size AVs. Using a new type of small robot that emulates an AV, developed in Dr. Berman’s lab, participants will be able to remotely drive around a model city environment and interact with other AV-like robots using the cameras and LiDAR sensors on the remotely driven robot to guide them.
Although these commercial and research systems are still in testing, it is important to understand how AVs are being marketed to the general public and how they are perceived, so that one day they may be effectively adopted into everyday life. People do not want to see a car they do not trust on the same roads as them, so the questions are: why don’t people trust them, and how can companies and researchers improve the trustworthiness of the vehicles?