Expecting a productivity increase from your self-driving car? Think again

volvo-self-driving-person
Don’t expect dramatic productivity boosts from self-driving cars. While these vehicles may increase safety and mobility, occupant productivity gains aren’t likely anytime soon. Driver perception, motion sickness, and safety issues must be addressed first, say University of Michigan researchers.

According to a study just released by the University of Michigan’s Sustainable Worldwide Transportation group, car rides in the U.S. are too brief for significant productive engagement. The authors of the study, Michael Sivak and Brandon Schoettle, analyzed data of trip patterns. They found that for privately-owned light duty vehicles, which includes cars, vans, SUVs, and pickup trucks, overall trip length averaged just 9.5 miles and 18.6 minutes. That’s too short for most people to settle down and get much work done.

Beyond the theoretical free time gained while vehicles drive themselves, other factors among people worldwide rule out much occupant productivity.  Schoettle and Sivak posed the following question to 3,255 people in the U.S., Australia, China, India, Japan, and the U.K., “If you were to ride in a completely self-driving vehicle, what do you think you would use the extra time doing instead of driving?”

Most relevant to the purpose of the question were people who said, “I would not ride in a self-driving vehicle” or “Watch the road even though I would not be driving.” Those two responses were selected by 58.5 percent of the Americans surveyed. If they wouldn’t ride in a self-driving car in the first place or stop watching the road, there’s no way they could focus on work. Only 4.8 percent of U.S. respondents said they’d use the time to do work.

Of the 41.5 percent of Americans who would ride in self-driving vehicles and not watch the road, 8 percent said they would frequently experience some form of motion sickness. So don’t expect those folks to focus on a spreadsheet in a moving vehicle.

Two other concerns arose from the Michigan study. The survey participants indicated they did not believe current occupant protection systems work for the nontraditional postures and positions people would assume if they were working in the car. There’s also a concern that untethered objects such as mobile devices could become dangerous projectiles in the event of a crash.

As passenger comfort and confidence in self-driving cars increase over time, productivity gains may be possible if the safety and motion sickness issues are addressed. But that change won’t occur quickly. Plus, it appears if we really want to be productive in cars, we need, on average, longer commutes. All in favor?

Cars

Can electric motors finally make three-wheeled cars great?

Every few years, someone tries to sell a three-wheeled vehicle to Americans. Historically, it hasn’t gone very well. We’ve got our suspicions about why people don’t buy trikes, and they boil down to this: a trike is just not a real…
Cars

Lyft and Aptiv’s self-driving car program has come a long way (but not far enough)

Many companies talk about self-driving cars, but Lyft and Aptiv are already using a fleet of them to transport paying customers in Las Vegas. Hop in for a close look at the tech of autonomous cars, and the challenges they face.
Cars

Driving Daimler’s 40-ton eCascadia big rig isn’t just fun, it’s electrifying

Daimler Trucks brought its all-electric eCascadia semi-truck to the 2019 CES, and invited us to take the wheel. What does it feel like to drive one? Simply electrifying, of course.
Cars

China’s GAC Motor cruises into Detroit with all-electric Entranze concept

Chinese automaker GAC Motor brought its all-electric Entranze concept to the 2019 Detroit Auto Show. This is the third straight year that GAC has appeared in Detroit, and the company has established a design center in California.
Cars

Ford’s Mustang-inspired electric crossover will spawn a Lincoln luxury version

Lincoln will get its own version of parent Ford's first mass-market, long-range electric vehicle. While Ford's version will have styling inspired by the Mustang, Lincoln will take a more traditional approach.
Home Theater

Spotify adds simplified Car View mode for Android users

What was once just a test is now a reality: Spotify is rolling out a new, simplified in-car user interface for all Android users called Car View, which automatically engages when the app detects a car Bluetooth connection.
Cars

Boutique carmaker Karma Automotive, legendary design firm Pininfarina team up

Karma Automotive is partnering with legendary Italian design firm Pininfarina on future luxury cars. The first product of that partnership will appear later this year, Karma said, without offering other details.
Cars

Sibling rivalry: 2019 BMW Z4 takes on the 2020 Toyota Supra

BMW and Toyota forged an unlikely partnership when they set out to build a sports car platform together. Here, we examine the similarities and differences between the 2019 Z4 and the 2020 Supra.
Cars

Tesla cuts workforce by 7 percent, ends referral program to trim costs

Tesla has announced plans to trim its workforce by seven percent, and it will end the referral program that rewards customers who help it sell cars. These measures are ways to cut costs and boost profits.
Cars

Worried about commuting in winter weather? Nissan has the answer

The Nissan Altima midsize sedan is now available with all-wheel drive. To advertise that fact, Nissan's Canadian division slapped some tank-like tracks on an Altima to create a one-off show car.
Emerging Tech

Too buzzed to drive? Don’t worry — this autonomous car-bar will drive to you

It might just be the best or worst idea that we've ever heard: A self-driving robot bartender you can summon with an app, which promises to mix you the perfect drink wherever you happen to be.
Cars

Michigan OKs digital license plates with Rplate’s connected car platform

The state of Michigan approved the use of digital license plates on motor vehicles registered in the state. Reviver Auto, the manufacturer of the Rplate connected car platform, worked with Michigan's Department of State to pass the bill.
Cars

This Chevy Silverado pickup truck is made from more than 300,000 Lego bricks

To promote The Lego Movie 2: The Second Part, Lego and Chevrolet teamed up on a life-size replica of the automaker's Silverado pickup truck made from more than 300,000 plastic bricks.
Cars

Prices for using Tesla Supercharging just skyrocketed

Tesla is updating their Supercharging pricing based on local electricity rates and customer demand, which has lead to an increase in charging costs by as much as 33 percent in some regions.