Ed Houghton

DG Cities surveys UK views on driverless cars – roughly a third in favour, a third against and a third undecided.

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Happy to go driverless? D-Risk reveals even 36/29/35 UK opinion split

DG Cities, a London-based company specialising in people-centred smart city technologies, has conducted interesting research into the UK public’s views on driverless cars.

The headline result was: Of 1,034 people surveyed in 2021, 36.4% would be happy to ride in an autonomous vehicle (AV) tomorrow, with 28.5% undecided and 35.1% less keen.

There were significant differences across the age groups, with over half (56.1%) of 18-34 year-olds confident that self-driving cars will be safer than human-driven vehicles, compared to less than a third (30.3%) of those aged 55 and over.

The work was part of the Innovate UK funded D-Risk project, focused on improving the safety of self-driving cars. DG Cities’ D-Risk partners include AI specialist dRisk.ai, software developer Claytex and Imperial College London.

We spoke to Edward Houghton, Head of Research and Service Design at DG Cities, to find out more.

Public engagement on driverless

EH: “We’re an urban innovation company looking at new technologies within cities to understand how they can be implemented with the public and communities in mind. We work on projects based around new tech, like autonomous vehicles, and we speak to the public about their experiences, supporting tech developers to implement their products in the most safe and appropriate way.

Autonomous vehicles get a lot of press interest and, because the technology is still very much in development, the public rightly have questions. It’s a really interesting topic. I’m a behavioural scientist and environmental engineer, so my interest is in the public perception side – how people see and understand these vehicles, their experiences of using them.

“We look at how people could use this type of service in the future, and the kind of ethical design requirements the technologies will need to work effectively. DG Cities specialises in engaging the public in the debate around autonomous vehicles, working with our partners to understand how we can make the technology accessible.”

Driverless perception age differences

EH: “The idea was to try and understand how ready the UK public is to adopt this type of technology. We provided a definition of what we mean by self-driving – a vehicle that can operate by itself between points A and B with minimal human interaction.

“We found some interesting differences according to age. Older people seemed to be more concerned about safety and didn’t necessarily trust the vehicle to make the right decision. Younger people were far more likely to say they would trust the vehicle.

“There are a number of reasons why this might be the case. For example, older people may have seen technologies in the past that they now don’t trust, or there may be a low level of tech literacy.”

Near miss data

EH: “DG Cities has been a partner in other autonomous vehicle projects – we ran engagement on the driverless trial in Greenwich a few years – but D-Risk was the first where we looked specifically at safety and trust, and also tried to collect edge cases.

“The really unique part of D-Risk is the knowledge graph – our “map” of real-life edge cases from traffic cameras and police accident reports. We’re also using Facebook to ask the public about complex scenarios they’ve experienced – extraordinary things an autonomous vehicle might need to deal with.

“Whether you’re a driver or not, we’ve all heard scary stories of when things go wrong. But accident reports only capture incidents, so data on near misses is missing. The public can tell us about when they got very close to being in a severe accident. That’s very powerful in terms of adding to the library. Our partners then turn it into simulation and coding to train the vehicles.”

D-Risk report on driverless cars 2021
D-Risk Community Insights Report on driverless cars 2021

For more info and to read the full report visit drisk-project.org

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Author: Neil Kennett

Neil is MD of Featurebank Ltd. He launched Carsofthefuture.co.uk in 2019.