Survey shows a third of people would opt for smartphone over car

Meanwhile, security remains a top concern with self-driving vehicles

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Once a rite of passage for any teenager, owning a car is increasingly being overshadowed by the desire for a smartphone, a new survey shows.

In the survey of 1,200 people in four major countries by global tech design and strategy firm frog, 30% of the respondents said that they would give up their car before their smartphone.

"Given that smartphones have been commonly available for only 10 years, we expect the proportion of people who value them more than their car to grow swiftly and significantly," frog said in a statement about the survey.

The online survey of the residents of the United States, China, Denmark and Germany found that 37% of car owners would like to give up their car outright or felt they could get by without it.

Moreover, 23% of the respondents reported that they had used crowd-sourced taxis in the past year while 50.4% said they had used traditional taxis. Correspondingly, 56% of those surveyed indicated they would like to be able to be productive while in transit.

According to frog, when respondents were asked how much longer they expected to continue owning a car, 3% said less than a year and 17% reported that they expect to give up their car sometime within the next five years.

"This may suggest that 20% of the market could be open to alternative service models within the next five years," frog stated. "If you expand that out to the next 10 years, 29% of the market could be ready to make such a change."

A "generational shift" may be taking place, said Andrew Poliak, the global director of business development for QNX Software Systems, which created the embedded operating system for many of the world's major automakers, including Ford, GM, Toyota and Volkswagen.

"I think the people of my generation saw driving a vehicle as a rite of passage to adulthood -- that was your freedom," Poliak said. "I think the generation now views going from point A to point B as just occupying time that they could [spend] doing something else."

"I don't think they view it with the same freedom that I did as a kid," he said.

QNX's software controls not only telematics (or in-vehicle telecommunications) systems, but also a growing number of in-vehicle sensors and safety modules in which it's embedded.

Poliak said a growing issue in the autonomous vehicle industry is security.

Toyota self-driving car Toyota

Toyota's Highway Teammate self-driving car has been tested on Japan's roadways.

"Security is a big, big topic. I don't think people realize the unique challenges to the auto market," Poliak said. "People are used to security where there's a hack and you patch it. There's an exploit and you patch it. That's one challenge -- making sure if there's an exploit, [it's possible] to update the software in those cars."

The problem is that the vast majority of cars do not support over-the-air or wireless software updates. That means vehicle owners are responsible for addressing identified exploits by either downloading software patches onto flash drives and upgrading vehicles themselves or bringing their cars to dealers for upgrades.

As more cars are wirelessly connected, wireless updates will become more common. Still, as vehicles continue to gain autonomous features, they're at a greater risk of a hack or software exploit.

"I don't think the market will accept a consumer approach of an exploit happening... and then you fix it, because in an autonomous vehicle an exploit can be catastrophic," Poliak said.

"We're decoupling that hamster wheel of patch/fix and trying to be proactive in building systems that have a resiliency... that prevents any catastrophic attack on an autonomous vehicle," Pollack added.

One of the issues facing the auto industry is the system reboot. Unlike a phone or desktop computer, a car's computer system can't be rebooted on the fly.

A separate survey just released by the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers (IEEE) and its social media communities revealed challenges to the future of driverless vehicles.

Respondents indicated that they wouldn't feel comfortable with driverless vehicles transporting their children, and they said that safety and trust in the technology remain the biggest barriers to consumer adoption.

The survey was distributed to members of the IEEE Intelligent Transportation Systems (ITS) society. There are about 1,300 members of that group, and 119 of them  responded. The survey was also promoted on IEEE Facebook and Twitter social channels; that outreach effort drew an additional 294 responses.

Respondents were asked to use a scale of 1 to 5 to rate how comfortable they would be having autonomous vehicles pick up and drop off their children (with 1 being not at all comfortable and 5 being very comfortable). A majority of respondents in each group -- 70.8% of ITS members and 59.7% of IEEE social media followers -- pinned their comfort levels at a 3 or below.

Safety was the primary concern about driverless vehicles for majorities of both groups: 54.3% of IEEE social media followers and and 62.6% of ITS members.

More than three-quarters (75.5%) of ITS members indicated that they would use autonomous vehicles for daily errands, while 74.1% said they would commute in them and 60.7% said they'd use them for road trips.

When asked what needs to be addressed for driverless vehicles to be considered safe, ITS members said they want to see better driverless vehicle technology. Additionally, 26% of the respondents in that group said that government policies and regulations remain the main barrier to mass adoption of autonomous vehicles.

"I think that we are absolutely going to be seeing driverless vehicles on the road in the near future, possibly in as little as five years," said Jeffrey Miller, an IEEE member and an associate professor of engineering practice at the University of Southern California. "Experts from all over the world are contributing to this industry, and it will be interesting to see which country is able to offer driverless vehicles first. Environment, regulations and consumer acceptance will be key drivers to its success."

Copyright © 2015 IDG Communications, Inc.

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