Wednesday November 16th, 2016

Crossing the Trust Threshold

Andy Sarfas

Andy Sarfas


Who hasn’t experienced the frustration of sitting in traffic or that heart-stopping moment when a pedestrian or a dog rushes out in front of your speeding car? I am sure these are all things that most of us drivers experience on an all too regular basis.

So the news that Tesla is moving towards a fully autonomous car and that Otto (Uber’s trucking division) recently completed it’s first commercial delivery using a fully autonomous truck is encouraging for all of us frustrated drivers. A previous blog touched on the collaboration aspect of self-driving cars and how we need rules to allow vehicles to co-operate on our narrow roads. What I want to discuss here is the aspect of trust and how, if we are to get popular adoption of autonomous vehicles we need to cross a threshold of trust.

The banking scandals of a few years back and recent revelations about high-profile companies being careless with our personal information have dented our trust in these corporations. However, we continue to use these products and services as the threshold of trust has not been broken. It can take many decades for us to get to the point where we trust a bank to look after our hard earned cash – think about your own bank and how long they have been in business. The Banca Monte dei Paschi di Siena despite some recent issues, is credited as the oldest bank in continuous operation having been founded in Italy in 1472. Clearly this bank has built a reputation and trust amongst the population over the last 544 years. Now would you trust a company founded just 18 years ago with your life never mind your cash? Well maybe…..

Understanding the user (the driver)

In September 2016 Google became an adult. Founded in 1998 Google turned 18 and with this comes new responsibilities, one of which is to push forward the boundaries of self-driving cars. Together with the likes of Tesla and some of the more established auto brands, Google is helping make my dream of a relaxing commute a reality. Being consumer focussed, both Google and Tesla are well set to make a success of helping drivers over the trust threshold despite being relatively young. These companies understand their users and this is the key to unlocking trust. Hundreds of millions of consumers trust Google on a daily basis to look after their communications and their calendars. They are happy to trust that Google knows where they live, where they work, who their friends are and when they are booked on that flight to visit friends. Increasingly Google has raised this level of trust and now consumers who use the recently announced Google router and Google Home will be entrusting all of their web surfing and all of their home conversations with Google. It’s not hard to see these same consumers crossing the trust threshold and allowing Google to transport them from home to work in a self-driving car – or is it?

Current products and services that we trust Google to look after for us tend to be somewhat in the background. We can’t see our emails being processed by the Google servers and we probably don’t really understand how our Google Home device analyses our spoken questions and responds in milliseconds. Sitting in the front seat of a car speeding down the highway at 70 mph is a totally different scenario. Here we will be able to see the road whizzing by, we can see other motorists in their metal boxes in front and behind us. Now the trust threshold is highly visible! Even in an aircraft travelling significantly faster there is a barrier between the pilot and the passenger – you can’t see what is in front of you and most of us have no real perception of the level of control required to pilot the plane. Thus the trust threshold when flying is not really an issue. So the level of trust required to sit in a self driving Google car is quite unique.

Letting the car take control

Tesla, on the other hand, has started to step their users up towards the trust threshold already. Even though the company is 5 years younger than Google (founded in 2003) they have been successful in persuading some early adopters to cross the trust threshold to such an extent that they are comfortable letting their Model S take control (in certain circumstances). Tesla’s approach, in my opinion, is an intelligent one. They build cars that are highly desirable and which, due to their relatively high cost, tend to be owned by successful and wealthy individuals. Seeing people, especially those who appear to be successful crossing the trust threshold will encourage others to follow. This demonstration of trust will play a big part in Tesla’s success.

So we have seen that both longstanding institutions and carefully positioned newcomers can encourage consumers to cross the trust threshold. Focussing on the needs of the driver (the user) and their attitudes and requirements will help companies like Google and Tesla in this quest. At Leadin we always ‘go where the users are’ and we ensure the users needs, aspirations and requirements are considered in the design process. Keeping the user at the centre of the design and development process results in products and services that are easier to use and more readily accepted. Only time will tell if the mass market of users/drivers will be willing to place their lives in the hands of self-driving cars. For me, well I will be at the front of the queue!

The Editor,  Andy Sarfas, is Marketing Manager at Leadin, working in our UK office.