New Survey Puts the Utopian Self-Driving Car Vision in Doubt


People don’t like the idea of living in their cars — which could be a problem for the utopian vision of the self-driving car as an extension of the home. According to a survey released Tuesday, 84.9 percent of drivers find the idea of living in their car depressing and revealed more about why people don’t trust self-driving cars yet.

The survey, undertaken by connected car company Klashwerks, asked 3,116 drivers a series of questions via SurveyMonkey between January 31 and February 6. The survey also found that 24.8 percent would never ride in a self-driving car, 43 percent are regularly tempted to eat or prepare food in their car, and people living in Mountain states are most eager to adopt self-driving cars.

“Our survey shows a lack of information, a lot of distrust,” Russell Ure, CEO of Klashwerks, tells Inverse. “We’re in a realm of time where the whole car industry is going through a revolution.”

The development of self-driving cars seems to offer new opportunities, but respondents seemed very much against the idea that they could conduct their lives in their car.

“In North America, living in your car is just above living on the street,” Ure says. “I think that kind of speaks to that stigma.”

But rather than spending less time in cars, some people believe autonomous vehicles will pave the way for uses that mean spending more time in them, like businesses on wheels. Jeffrey Tumlin, director of strategy at Nelson/Nygaard, thinks that fleets of autonomous vehicles mananged by service providers like Amazon will drive around, waiting for users to order their services via a smartphone.

Tumlin tells Inverse that people may not like the idea of spending a lot of time in their cars now, but that’s because the car has been designed for a one-size-fits-all experience. An Amazon self-driving vehicle, for example, could counteract motion sickness, adapting its design to a specific user to make traveling a more enjoyable experience. When cars need to serve multiple purposes, like today, it stifles that creativity, he says.

“Technology can change both the experience of movement, but also what you’re able to do at the time,” Tumlin says. “There’s a lot of people who like to hop on a train or get on a road trip, in part for the sheer pleasure of movement. But when you have a car and every car looks like a Honda Civic, there’s no pleasure in there any more.”

The RV, a vehicle that Americans do find acceptable to live in.

Flickr / _escalade328s_

There is one area of American life where the vision of living in the car has part become reality: the RV. Around 8.9 million households in the United States own an RV, and the vehicle allows families to take trips to wherever their hearts desire. There is a certain level of appetite for adopting vehicles that take on everyday life functions.

“The RV is still very much constrained by mid-20th-century technology,” Tumlin says, noting that the development of new car technologies will allow manufacturers to get more creative in their designs. As an example, Tumlin notes the engine would be replaced by a small electric motor, granting more space to the internal design. “The internal combustion engine is gone, so this enormous, noisy, stinky, dangerous thing is gone.”

Ultimately, much like how RVs depended on a cultural acceptance to gain a footing in the market, many of the bigger ideas around future car usage will depend on how culture develops. Although Ure says that many people today enjoy owning a car, the idea of calling up a self-driving car doesn’t seem unreasonable as the likes of Uber and Lyft have gained ground with a new generation. This shift points to how attitudes around cars could change in the future.

“You can see the virtual car and car sharing schemes are becoming more popular because they don’t have to buy a car,” Ure says. “That sharing idea is gaining in popularity.”

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