Innovation Insights: what is the future of smart technology and AI in cars?

July 17, 2020

Matthew Hellon
Research Executive

nnovation Insights is a monthly series on research world looking at all thing’s technological innovation. The series is based on several recent surveys with Arm (semi-conductor company valued at £23.4 billion) and will cover topics such as:

  • Security – will security concerns stifle technological and product innovation or simply lead to more secure products?
  • Insight driven innovation – what processes can be used to turn insight into innovation and how can insights into the way youths interact with technology be used to prototype software that assists and empowers them to tackle cyberbullying?

As smart technology has begun to enter our homes, it’s also made its way into our cars. New technology-focused entrants such as Tesla have re-defined what people want in their cars. From voice-controlled dashboards to fully autonomous cars, technology on the roads is progressing quickly.

In 2019, the automotive industry added £18.6 billion of value to the UK economy. But outside of autonomous driving, where might AI add value to this behemoth industry’s products? This month’s Innovation Insights examines the appetite for smart technology in cars and which AI powered features people are most comfortable with.

Smart technology in cars on the rise

Only 13% of people own a car with smart technology (e.g. advanced driver assistance [parking assist, lane departure warning etc], voice control)[i]. However, 88% of those who do are satisfied/very satisfied with it. Moreover, 87% of people say that smart technology in cars interests them and 83% state smart technology will impact their next car purchase. High satisfaction among owners and high interest among non-owners suggests smart technology in cars is only going to increase in prevalence.

Awareness of autonomous cars is high

The most advanced use of smart technology and AI in cars is autonomous driving. Automation has various levels, ranging from level 0 (no automation) to level 5 (full automation). In the middle are varying degrees of autonomy depending on the environment (e.g. rural or motorway) and task (speed control or steering). 74% of people state that they’re aware of what autonomous cars are. This is likely driven by Tesla’s popularity, a media focus on both positive and negative news regarding autonomous vehicles and the automotive industry’s communication of plans regarding automation in consumer vehicles.

Smart cities on the rise

Autonomous cars will benefit from smarter cities in their quest for full automation. Instead of autonomous cars just communicating with one another, they will be able to communicate with smart devices built into smart cities too. For example, smart traffic lights will be able to better control traffic flows. They could simply communicate with all the cars on the road to understand their position without relying on cameras. 53% of people have noticed more smart technology in cities and 64% enjoy seeing it. For some, smart infrastructure can be confusing. In the UK, smart motorways effectively change the rules of the road depending on traffic conditions. Despite this, 70% expect to see more smart technology in cities throughout 2020.

Comfort varies depending on the AI powered feature

As we’ve seen throughout the Innovation Insights series, smart technology and AI are accepted, and even welcomed, until they begin to take too much control away from the user. Automatically adjusting music, temperature and seat settings is considered relatively unobtrusive. However, people are less comfortable when technology interferes with the actual driving process (i.e. takes over control without permission).

The AI powered feature people are most comfortable with is a system that recognizes when you’re drowsy or driving erratically and alerts you (74%[ii]). This is followed by prediction of maintenance based on driving style and vehicle (73%). People are least comfortable with a system that overrides your driving if it’s too aggressive or inefficient (43% comfortable). Similarly, only 53% are comfortable with a car that recognizes your face and unlocks or starts the engine when you approach. In his book Catalyst, John Berger considers the ease of behaviour change to be relative to the importance someone ascribes to that behaviour. Cars are large, important purchases and therefore people need to see significant evidence about alternative options (such as autonomous vehicles) before adoption is considered.

The next Innovation Insights article will be focused on smart home devices. It will cover their market penetration and consumer satisfaction as well as which potential innovations are considered the most appealing.

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