Flying cars? Driverless cars? It's the stuff of “The Jetson's.” And unlike the world of the future they promised us in the go-go '60s, it looks like autonomous cars are around the corner.
I've talked to many friends and colleagues in the business, living in areas of the U.S. where companies like Uber, Google, Tesla, and scores of other companies are all busily trying to perfect their autonomous driving technology. Billions are being invested, and cities and municipalities are lining up to ensure their participation in what's proving to be an amazing race – with no drivers.
The blog – CB Insights – reported last month that no fewer than 44 different companies are hard at work on the autonomous front. Some are brands you know well, but many others are working behind the scenes to create the technology that will power these vehicles of the not-so-distant future. It's mind-boggling just how many technologists and engineers are going all out in this rapidly emerging space that could change the ways in which we're transported.
And yet, most consumers still aren't wild about the prospect of cars that will drive themselves. In our last two Techsurveys, we've asked how regular folks take to this futuristic technology. While many say they need more information in order to offer an opinion, many others are quite sure of their feelings. On the one hand, three in ten are leaning or are vehemently against the idea. On the other, less than one-fourth like or are enthusiastic about the concept.
You may not be surprised to learn that Millennials and men are the most gung-ho about self-driving cars. After all, they're Uber's biggest customers. And on the other end of the spectrum, Baby Boomers and women – not so much.
Like them or not, autonomous cars are going to happen. There's too much being invested in these complex science projects for them not to see the light of day. And so as researchers, our thoughts turn to what people will be doing in these self-driving vehicles when one no longer has to have their eyes on the road and their hands on the wheel.
In fact, there may not be a wheel. Or pedals. Or a radio.
So in the spirit of looking to the future, we included a very different question in Techsurvey13 – one that research wizard Larry Rosin refers to as a “spicy meatball.”
Here's what we asked:
“The year is 2025. You're driving in an autonomous car. The technology has almost totally eliminated traffic accidents, leaving you to do whatever you'd like while in the vehicle. Which one of the following do you think you'd do most often?”
And we gave them a choice of a variety of activities, from listening to radio, watching video, working on a computer, and other options.
Here's how it broke down:
Yes, the sample is comprised of radio listeners, but it was still nice to see broadcast radio emerge as the most popular option. But the robust response to “all of the above” suggests consumers will be engaged in myriad activities while motoring along in these driverless vehicles.
You probably noticed the 5% who responded with “something else.” We're talking about more than 2,500 respondents, most of whom took the time to type in a different answer from the choices we offered them.
We did our best to group and categorize these pages of responses, being careful to interpret their autonomous car activities as accurately and honestly as possible. And to graphically depict their alternative choices, we created a word cloud that shows the breadth of their ideas. The larger the word, the more frequent the response.
Copping some z's is the clear winner, suggesting that many people are now driving while fatigued. And to that point, there was a story earlier in the year about the propensity for Ford engineers to fall asleep while “test driving” autonomous cars. Apparently, many of our respondents sensed this outcome in their answer to this question, and started thinking about siestas, cat naps, and your basic commuter snooze.
But the #2 clear choice is having sex, followed by video game play, and simply enjoying the view.
It's also interesting that about as many people chose knitting as those who moved right to drinking while in an autonomous car. It's hard to be sure exactly what that means, but it would seem to suggest that leisure time priorities can be vastly different from person to person.
And then there was a handful of people who expressed fear of being in these driverless vehicles. Just below the “X” on the world cloud, you'll see the very tiny expression: be scared.
As meatballs go, they don't get much spicier than this.
And these openended responses took me back to those early days of discovery during those formative teen years when driving a car was about the most important thing in the world. But let's not forget that when Bob Seger was working on his “night moves” in the backseat of a '60 Chevy, at least the car wasn't moving.
For more Techsurvey13 results, click here.