Posted on April 19, 2018 by Charles Morris
It’s been a rough few weeks for boosters of vehicle autonomy. In March, one of Uber’s pilot autonomous vehicles killed pedestrian Elaine Herzberg while she was crossing the street. A few days later, Walter Huang died when his Model X hit a highway barrier in California with the Autopilot system engaged. Mr. Huang was not the first Autopilot-related fatality: in 2016, Joshua Brown was killed in a crash while his Model S was in Autopilot mode (an investigation by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration “did not identify any defects in the design or performance” of Autopilot).
Above: Tesla Model S (Instagram: maxence.rigottier)
These deaths highlight the need for all companies developing self-driving technology to proceed carefully, and to put safety first. Unfortunately however, there will probably be more tragedies along the road to vehicle autonomy. Most experts believe that autonomous features will make the roads safer, but an accident-free world is surely an impossible goal. As Elon Musk acknowledged in a recent interview with CBS News, Autopilot “will never be perfect.”
Be that as it may, fatal accidents inevitably result in bad press for the companies involved. Since the California crash, has public opinion turned against Tesla and its Autopilot system? Not according to a recent survey by Autolist, which found that consumers trust the Silicon Valley trendsetter more than any other automaker or tech company when it comes to self-driving vehicles.
Above: Tesla is the most trusted brand for self-driving cars (Source: Autolist)
Autolist polled 1,326 consumers in March and April, after both the Tesla and Uber crashes. Asked which companies they trusted the most to bring a self-driving car to market, 32 percent of respondents chose Tesla. Of the legacy automakers, Toyota was the most trusted, with 15 percent naming it as their top choice. Ride sharing and tech companies fared much worse - only 6 percent of respondents said Uber was their most trusted company, and less than one percent chose Waymo.
Of course, these results should be consumed with a generous portion of salt. Until recently, Tesla was the only automaker offering a system that enables Level 2 autonomy (Cadillac recently introduced a similar system on its CT6 luxury sedan), and it remains by far the most familiar name in the autonomy field, so it may have won this contest by default. The Autolist survey did not specify Waymo’s association with Google, so its dismal showing is probably due to a simple lack of name recognition.
Above: A look at how Tesla's Autopilot adjusts with construction on the highway (Youtube:
Furthermore, 27 percent of Autolist’s respondents said they didn’t trust any company to build a self-driving car, so consumers don’t seem to be extremely keen on autonomy in general. However, Tesla’s top ranking, despite the recent tragedy, might just indicate that the car-buying public is less prone to jump to conclusions than you might think.