Going with the autonomous flow

What will we do in our cars if we no longer have to do the driving ourselves? An international study conducted by the Fraunhofer IAO provides some answers.

5 p.m. Once again, it’s the evening rush hour in a big city. But we’re not part of it. Sheltered from the turmoil, we’re sitting in comfortable seats and dozing or maybe watching a film. In the midst of time-consuming stop-and-go traffic, we’re making a switch — and gaining time.

Is this the ideal scenario for traveling in an autonomously driving vehicle? Visions of a chill-out lounge on wheels or a traveling office are actually very similar to the wishes of many car users. That’s the conclusion of the international study “Enabling the Value of Time” that was conducted by the Fraunhofer-Institute for Industrial Engineering (IAO) in cooperation with the consulting company Horváth & Partners. The authors of the study gave 2,500 car users in China, Japan, the USA, Germany, and France a look at the future of autonomously driving cars and asked them to answer some questions. Are drivers already prepared to give up their steering wheels? Should driverless taxis transport us through road traffic according to a specific motto? And what would be the ideal equipment for an autonomously driving vehicle?

Looking forward to autonomous driving

Dr. Florian Herrmann, Head of the Mobility and Innovation Systems research unit of the Fraunhofer-Institute for Industrial Engineering (IAO)"

The study shows that almost half of the respondents are looking forward to a completely new travel experience. The most enthusiastic subgroup was the Chinese: Almost three quarters of them could imagine traveling in an autonomously driving vehicle. And most of the Japanese respondents — 58 percent — also said they were fans of self-driving cars. The respondents in Germany, where the safety risks are still viewed critically, were more cautious. Dr. Florian Herrmann, the lead investigator of the Fraunhofer IAO survey, is nonetheless convinced that “step by step, automated driving will become part of our lives.” He points out that for private cars in particular, a clear development can be seen, proceeding from the assistance functions that are already available to highly automated driving and eventually to fully automated driving.

Step by step, automated driving will become part of our lives.

Dr. Florian Herrmann, Head of the Mobility and Innovation Systems research unit of the Fraunhofer-Institute for Industrial Engineering (IAO)

It’s also clear that the more densely populated a region is, the more its inhabitants look forward to self-driving vehicles. From Paris to Beijing, the residents of big cities in particular would love to have higher-quality transportation systems. The way mobility is organized today is obviously absorbing increasing amounts of time and energy. A key advantage of autonomously driving cars could be the fact that they reverse this loss of time. The study shows that this factor is appreciated most of all by city dwellers and by families. In all the countries where the survey was conducted, these groups showed above-average interest in the interior setup of autonomously driving cars. They are also ready and able to pay more for the technology. Young people and users of local public transportation are also among the target groups that are more open to the idea of autonomously driving vehicles and better prepared to pay for them.

Passengers’ favorite activities

According to the Fraunhofer study, people want to have a relaxing and comfortable environment in an autonomously driving vehicle. In all the countries surveyed, sleeping and relaxing were the passengers’ favorite activities. That was especially the case for people traveling alone or making longer trips during their vacations and their leisure time. They want to sit in comfortable seats with a fully reclined position and travel in peace and quiet, sheltered from the world outside. But many respondents could also imagine themselves doing the opposite — working and being productive. That’s no surprise, because this is an ideal option for business trips and the daily commute. In this case, the respondents’ wishes ranged from comfortable seating to computer workstations and virtual assistants for managing documents. They too wanted a quiet and sheltered atmosphere.

The favored interior design also depended on the number of passengers that was envisioned. For trips with two or more people in the vehicle, entertainment was at the top of the wish list. For most people, it’s obviously more fun to watch films, listen to music, or play games with others than to do these things alone. And in order to offer these activities, the vehicle should be seamlessly connected and set up for multimedia applications. For many respondents, eating and drinking is another pleasant pastime. They could imagine having a kitchenette for storing a supply of snacks and drinks or even complete meals that can be kept cool or warmed up.

But there were also things that few respondents wanted to do in a moving vehicle. Only a few wanted to use this time for fitness exercises, body care or applying makeup — activities for which other locations would probably be more suitable.

China leads the trend toward autonomous driving

The Chinese respondents were most likely to have already made the imaginative leap into the era of autonomous driving. “Chinese people are generally interested because they have a strong affinity for technology and fewer reservations regarding data security and data use,” explains Florian Herrmann. He suspects that the Chinese are more likely to see the potential of new technologies and their sometimes complex development processes, rather than the disadvantages.

Chinese people are generally interested because they have a strong affinity for technology and fewer reservations regarding data security and data use.

Dr. Florian Herrmann

This feeling is backed up by a statistic from the “RoboCab Acceptance Study” conducted by the Fraunhofer IAO on behalf of the German Federal Ministry of Transport and Digital Infrastructure. According to the study, 70 percent of the Chinese respondents would entrust their children to a robot taxi. Only about 30 percent of the respondents in Germany and the USA would do the same. In addition, the Chinese respondents’ preferred activities were not related to the number of other passengers in the car. This is because many Chinese live in three-generation households, and they find it normal to share a car. For them it’s also not a problem to relax or sleep in the presence of other passengers.

Who will pay for it?

For most participants of the study, driving on autopilot is a positive concept because it enables them to have more living space and more time for themselves. But are they also prepared to pay more for these advantages? Once again, the Chinese respondents lead the way, with the greatest readiness to pay more. The Japanese are also looking forward to automated driving functions, but they are not willing to pay very much more for them. One reason for this is that the Japanese spend less-than-average amounts of time in their cars: The average amount of time the Japanese spend in their cars is 44 minutes per day — significantly less than the overall average of 70 minutes. That also explains their comparatively low interest in the option of working in an autonomously driving vehicle. German and US respondents are less enthusiastic about autonomous driving than people in China, Japan, and France. However, if they are impressed by the technology or the equipment, they are willing to spend comparatively large amounts of money for it.

Movie theaters on wheels, mobile restaurants

Carsharing is a major lever for reducing traffic volume and the scarcity of parking spaces in densely settled areas. But whether people want to share a car largely depends on their living conditions, according to the study. For four out of five people living in rural regions, having their own car is very important. And 60 percent of the US respondents also insist on driving their own cars. By contrast, many French people are willing to make use of carsharing concepts. Short-term rentals and carpooling offers are already common practice in France.

“Fully automated driving and car or ride sharing complement each other beautifully and could lead to a complete change of our mobility systems,” says Herrmann. In addition, more and more new mobility solutions and innovative vehicles, such as electric scooters, autonomous minibuses, and air taxis can be seen on the move, especially in urban areas. Another future vision involves vehicles that search for parking spaces outside the city on their own, instead of taking up valuable urban space. This would be one way to improve the quality of life in densely populated cities.

Fully automated driving and car or ride sharing complement each other beautifully and could lead to a complete change of our mobility systems.

Dr. Florian Herrmann

“On demand” driving services are already powerful engines of the transformation of mobility. One special option is self-driving “motto taxis” that pick up their passengers and give them a ride that is designed in line with a specific theme. Which of these themes are popular with the survey respondents? As with private cars, the “quiet car” with relaxation functions was preferred by almost two-thirds of the respondents. Almost equally popular was the “sightseeing car,” which provides the passengers with information about their surroundings during the drive. About a third of the respondents voted for the “restaurant car” and the “movie car” — except for the hard-working Germans and Chinese, who granted second place behind the quiet car to the “productivity car,” which enables them to do concentrated work during the drive. It’s also interesting to note that whereas the “wellness car” impressed 32 percent, or almost a third of the participants, “beauty taxis” and “fitness taxis” convinced only nine percent. The “gaming car” and the “party car” were among the least popular motto taxis, receiving only 12 and 15 percent of the votes, respectively.

Quiet, please!

For future users of autonomously driving cars, doing pleasant and useful activities during a drive enhances the value of the time they spend in the car. Manufacturers can make such activities possible by, for example, creating modular interior concepts that can provide peace and quiet, relaxation, work facilities, food and beverages, and entertainment — depending on what the passengers want.

All the major automakers have already developed autonomously driving concept cars, but they could further increase people’s acceptance of these future technologies through more dialogue and by involving the public in this development early on, says Herrmann. He is convinced that autonomously driving vehicles offer tremendous potential for everyone involved in the transportation system — ranging from local authorities to automakers and their suppliers, local public transport companies, and the people who use mobility services. If autonomous vehicles are correctly integrated, they would help to optimize the transportation system. Herrmann also believes that two further aspects are important. “Autonomous vehicles make older people who need assistance, as well as people without a driver’s license, more mobile. And according to all the forecasts, the number of traffic deaths will be significantly reduced.”

Autonomous vehicles make older people who need assistance, as well as people without a driver’s license, more mobile. And according to all the forecasts, the number of traffic deaths will be significantly reduced.

Dr. Florian Herrmann

Herrmann himself agrees with the majority of the respondents: He would like to have a car with a setup that enables him to work and also to relax while he’s on the road. “In addition, I’d like to have a traffic system that is more flexible and includes a variety of options so that we can use the available mobility resources in line with our needs. That’s the only way we can increase utilization while at the same time reducing our demand for resources. From my perspective, that makes autonomously driving cars valuable components for meeting our wide spectrum of mobility needs.”

In the future, people will probably be even more mobile than they are now. Nonetheless, they can still have more time for themselves — for example, because they will no longer have to organize their own mobility. They will have products that incorporate the management of their passengers’ valuable time into autonomous driving.

The study “Enabling the Value of Time” can here be downloaded.

Further Informations

Dr. Florian Herrmann is the Head of the Mobility and Innovation Systems research unit of the Fraunhofer-Institute for Industrial Engineering (IAO). He studied industrial engineering at the Karlsruhe Institute of Technology (KIT) and received a doctorate in technology management from the University of Stuttgart. He has been working at the Fraunhofer-Institute for Industrial Engineering (IAO) since 2011. In his research activities he focuses on investigating changing value creation structures and new business models within the automotive sector.

Glossary

In the future, the increasing automation of driving functions can enable passengers to engage in more complex, more extensive or more time-consuming secondary activities during a drive. What kinds of potential services will actually be possible? This issue was investigated by the 2016 study “The Value of Time” by the Fraunhofer-Institute for Industrial Engineering (IAO) in cooperation with the consulting company Horváth & Partners. The follow-up study “Enabling the Value of Time,” which was published in 2018, continues this investigation. Here the focus is on the question of what functions customers expect to see in future automated vehicles and how much and what kinds of interior equipment they would like to have. To answer this question, in the fall of 2017 the investigators conducted a global survey of 2,500 users in five countries: China, the USA, Japan, Germany, and France. The respondents were asked how interested they were in specialized vehicle concepts and special equipment in the areas of sleeping & relaxing, work & productivity, eating & drinking, entertainment, beauty, and comfort & wellness. They were also asked about which features they would be willing to pay for.

The participants of the online survey consisted of 500 users from each of the following five countries: the USA, France, Germany, China, and Japan. The process of selecting the 2,500 participants ensured that they reflected a representative distribution of demographic characteristics. Their average age was 46.3 years. Overall, most of the study participants live in urban areas. Almost 90 percent of the participants own cars. 42 percent of the users wrote that they live in a family. 34 percent are in couple relationships, and 24 percent are singles.

The Fraunhofer-Institute for Industrial Engineering (IAO) in Stuttgart supports companies and institutions in their progress toward new business models, efficient processes, and business success. Thanks to an in-depth understanding of organizational structures and technologies, the Institute successfully transfers applied research into practice. Through its involvement in international networks, the Institute investigates future-oriented issues that are relevant to Germany as a business location. The aim is to systematically optimize the interaction of people, organizations, and technology.

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