CES shows off self-driving tech, but survey says Canadians still wary

Ford has announced it will add 20 Ford Fusions to its autonomous vehicle testing fleet, making it the largest self-driving fleet of all automakers.

By Mike Davey

Las Vegas, Nevada — January 5, 2016 — The quest for fully autonomous vehicles continues, with major announcements coming out from a number of automakers at the Consumer Electronics Show (CES) regarding their autonomous vehicle (AV) technology.

Ford announced that it would add 20 more AV-equipped Ford Fusions to its existing fleet being tested in Michigan, California and Arizona. Mark Fields, Ford’s CEO, pointed to the five stages of autonomous driving developed by the Society of Automotive Engineers, and noted that his company has now reached the fourth stage. This means the vehicles are capable of all aspects of dynamic driving, even if a human does not respond to the vehicle’s request for driver intervention. In other words, a stage four AV can drive on its own, and make decisions if it decides you’re not going to do what’s needed. The fifth stage is when vehicles are fully autonomous in all weather conditions that a human driver could handle, and widely available to consumers. 

Ford and Toyota have also announced that they will use the same software, SmartDeviceLink, to link smartphones to screens on the vehicle’s dashboard. The software was developed by Ford.

“Using the most advanced technology and expanding our test fleet are clear signs of our commitment to make autonomous vehicles available for millions of people,” says Raj Nair, Ford Executive Vice President, Global Product Development, and Chief Technical Officer. “With more autonomous vehicles on the road, we are accelerating the development of software algorithms that serve to make our vehicles even smarter.”

There seems to be little question about whether or not car makers are ready for driverless cars. They’ve done the research, developed technology and tested it repeatedly. There’s still a question as to whether or not drivers will be willing to take their hands off the wheel. A new survey released by Kanetix reveals that Canadians in particular may not be ready to cede control to their automobiles.

“With companies like Google and major auto manufacturers obtaining permits to test autonomous technologies, these vehicles could be a reality in the next few years,” said Andrew Lo, Chief Marketing Officer and Tech Expert at Kanetix.ca. “While it is fun to imagine the possibilities these innovations present, we wanted to find out from Canadian consumers how they truly felt about the possibility of sharing the road with self-driving cars.”

The survey found that Canadians are split into three groups on the issue. About one-fourth would buy one if the technology was available, another one-fourth say they won’t, and the remaining 50 percent of the people surveyed say it would depend on the technology and how well it works before they would make a decision.

In terms of geography, Western Canadians are the least likely to want the driverless car with Quebec and Ontario being the most enthusiastic. We have to wonder if population density, and hence traffic conditions, might play a part in this.

There are also differences among age and gender. Almost twice as many males as females want driverless cars, and the younger demographic, age 18 to 34, are the most excite about the possibility.

An overwhelming majority of Canadians say driverless cars will be safer. Fifty-one per cent believe there will be fewer accidents, and 61 per cent think the elimination of risks like speeding and drunk driving will be the among the best outcomes of driverless vehicles.

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