Winning customers over to autonomy is vital says Hyundai

Automatic Emergency Braking (AEB) is among the assistive features that are expected to greatly improve driver safety. It is one of many technologies developed in the path to autonomy and it could prove to be more significant in the years to come.

“I think it’s a critical step toward any higher level of autonomy, both technically and in terms of consumer mindset,” said Cason Grover, senior group manager of vehicle technology planning and connected car program management at Hyundai Motor America. “When features such as AEB are described to customers, it sounds wonderful, but when people first experience them, they’re very hesitant to trust the vehicle to do something.”

Grover noted that while most automakers have agreed to make AEB a standard feature by 2022, it is still a new feature to many drivers. The same could be said for adaptive cruise control, which was previously reserved for luxury cars. It is finally starting to make its way to lower-end vehicles but the added cost is still a prohibitive issue for many consumers.

“It’s almost disconcerting at first – the idea of letting go and letting the car take over,” said Grover. “Of course, we don’t actually encourage letting go of the wheel or anything like that, and we do encourage covering the brake in most situations. But certainly when you first experience it, it’s more of a nervous covering – [you] aren’t sure what’s going to happen.”

Over time, Grover expects consumers to realise that the technology can be trusted and does work as intended. He said that’s part of the “mindset change” that can happen as drivers begin to trust in assistive and autonomous capabilities.

Big challenges in educating consumers

If AEB is indeed a step toward autonomy, automakers need to make one thing clear. “We need to say AEB is a safety feature that we hope you don’t ever have to use,” said Grover. “You should be using the brakes yourself but it’s there, it’s got your back if you need it. That can be twofold – if you’re distracted or if the driver in front brakes so quickly that you couldn’t react, maybe your car can with its sensors.”

Grover added that with AEB, the goal is to be “pretty open and frank about exactly what it does” from a functional perspective. Consumers don’t necessarily need to know about the intricacies of the sensors and algorithms behind AEB but they must be aware of its functionality.

“We’ve had national advertising that showed kind of the classic situation of the child running out in the street and the car stopped,” said Grover. While TV ads provide an essential visual, it is impossible to safely demonstrate AEB in person. Thus, dealers are forced to describe how the feature works without allowing drivers to try before they buy.

Seeing is believing

Most automakers are focused on assistive features for cars that consumers drive themselves but not all are within the realm of autonomy. One alternative, augmented reality (AR), could help drivers navigate safely with simple visual cues.

Said Grover: “The first place I go when I think augmented reality is really related to the expansion of heads-up display technologies. You can completely change how you do, for example, navigation. You can overlay, ‘There’s the road on which you need to turn right up ahead’. And here’s some gentle blue arrow saying, ‘Go right there’.”

Grover explained that AR could be used to highlight a destination or to warn consumers that an upcoming parking lot is full. He said a vehicle could theoretically communicate with a smart infrastructure to provide traffic light updates, such as the light has changed from green to yellow or red. This way, if a large truck is blocking the traffic light, the driver will still know when it’s time to stop.

Use the phone but don’t touch it

Assistive features aren’t the only way to improve driver safety. Grover is also looking closely at the numerous distractions caused by mobile devices.

“We think a lot about the voice text features where you can simply press a button on the wheel, you don’t even have to look at anything,” he said. “You can just go ahead and dictate a text, you can have one read to you, usually with one button press. That’s a convenience feature but, realistically, we know people are doing that one way or another. It’s better to use the controls in the vehicle that are made to be used while driving.”

Navigation is another smartphone feature that has caught Grover’s attention. He said it’s important to bring that into the car, allowing consumers to put away their phones and focus on the road ahead. Grover added: “I think the physical holding of the phone introduces so much risk. Maybe you’re looking down at the phone. Sometimes you’re worried about dropping it, so now you’re further distracted beyond just paying attention to it.”

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