In autonomous vehicles, however, we will somehow have to come to terms with the role of passenger. As passengers we experience a loss of control, which represents a significant challenge psychologically. Neurobiologist and best-selling author Dr. Marcus Täuber describes it like this: “If we feel that we have no control over a situation, our body reacts with stress programs. From a neuroscience perspective, the loss of options to influence the situation represents an emergency.” It is therefore clear that autonomous control systems must be able to convince even the most skeptical of passengers to let go and place their trust in digital and mechatronic systems.
Automakers are trying to build that trust by introducing drivers gradually to autonomous driving. In fact, this is already happening with the introduction of comprehensive assistance systems and semi-autonomous features as an interim phase in the gradual transition to fully automated driving. This is where Dr. Caspar Lovell, project manager at ZF, currently sees a paradigm shift: “Until recently, we had assumed that autonomous driving, like many other functions, would spread from the luxury segment to the lower-price vehicle segments. In the meantime, we now expect that driverless vehicles will be initially launched in completely new mobility concepts that will first be used in inner-city traffic at low speeds.” Someday we may find ourselves facing a driverless robot taxi or people mover, forcing us to decide: Will I get in or not?