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Robot, Take the Wheel? Austinites Split Over the Future of Automotive Automatons

Miguel Guitierrez Jr./KUT
The Google self-driving car prototype, which was unveiled at the Google Fiber event in August of last year.

Would you use a self-driving car? That’s the question the Texas A&M Transportation Institute (TTI) asked people in the Austin area.

The answers from 600 respondents were evenly split – half of those surveyed said they do see a self-driving car in their future, half said they do not. The differences of opinion were in the areas of confidence in the technology and its safety, along with wishing to avoid the stress of driving versus wanting to be in control.

Ginger Goodin, a senior research engineer for TTI, says she thinks more people will come around to the idea of self-driving cars as they become more common.

Credit Texas Transportation Institute

“I think as people become more familiar with the technology and the utility and the benefits that it provides, there will be more acceptance. You know, I think it’s like any other technology adoption curve,” Goodin said. “You’re going to have early-adopters and then you’re going to have those that are going to wait, and you’re going to have the lagging ones, the late adopters, and I don’t know why this would be any different.”

One of the reasons the Transportation Institute conducted the survey is to begin to gauge how self-driving cars would affect transportation systems in the future.

The findings suggest they may create more demand on the system – that is, if people find that they can be productive in their cars because they don’t have to drive them. 

“On the 50 percent who said they accepted it, they said ‘I would want to own my own vehicle,’” she said. “So, it could increase the amount of driving on our system, or the amount of use of the system, if people are okay with being in their car for long periods of time. It may take away from public transit, because one of the advantages of public transit is you get to use public transit, and you get to do other things while you’re sitting on a bus or a train.”

Goodin says that increase in road use could possibly reduce demand for mass transit.

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