Driverless cars (DCs) have in recent years been the subject of substantial investment and anticipation, as well as hype and exasperation. Governments have been drawn into a race for the gold at the end of the DC rainbow. But not everyone shares this view – there are many people opposed to DCs too.
This report shares insights from the “Driverless Cars Emulsion”. This initiative was prompted by frustration at the lack of shared thinking and real debate about what DCs could and, more importantly, should mean for the future. The ‘lovers’ and the ‘haters’ of DCs exist in separate echo chambers. Like oil and water, they don’t naturally mix. So we set about changing this, through an “emulsion” of the oil and water, via open minds holding different views working in a way designed to create dialogue and understanding.
We held six workshops around the UK between July and November 2019, involving over 100 DC evangelists, opponents and agnostics, carefully mixed together. Our aim was not to debate whether or not DCs should be part of our future. Instead, we invited participants to consider two plausible alternatives in 2050 where DCs have come to have a significant presence: utopia and dystopia.
We then examined the prospect of transitioning from today to these scenarios. We wanted to identify key issues in the medium-term future that should now be informing nearer-term planning for DCs, to ensure their contribution to mobility and society is positive.
In the workshop environment, people changed their initial views in the course of dialogue with others – some haters became more positive, while some lovers reduced their confidence. The emulsion concept was clearly working in mixing the oil and water.
People acknowledged that they had underestimated how many complicated issues needed to be addressed to progress towards a DC future, and now better appreciated how DCs form part of a wider but more complex mobility picture. This acknowledgement helps explain why, by the end of the workshops, over twice as many of our participants had become more negative than had become more positive about the proposition ‘DCs are a great opportunity for society’.
Some participants noted how little safety had been discussed, relative to other issues. This may suggest that this key benefit from DCs was taken “as a given”, so focus of attention turned to the wider consequences that follow from using DCs.
We found that DCs cannot be considered in a vacuum. Engaging in the workshops helped people to realise the need to move beyond the hype of DCs into a deeper grasp of the realities. The challenge is greater than might be assumed, as some of the issues to be resolved in pursuit of desirable outcomes pre-date DCs’ development, reflecting the wider mobility system and its role in supporting society.
The report sets out ten key principles from our Emulsion that form a “call to action” for various stakeholders.
Lyons, G. (2020). Driverless cars – a great opportunity for society? Final report of the Driverless Cars Emulsion initiative. Bristol: University of the West of England and Mott MacDonald