"The class was tasked with determining environmental, social and economic impacts of Level 4 autonomous vehicles, part of a competition known as the AutoDrive Challenge," Katerberg reports. "Level 4 refers to vehicles that are self-diving but unable to deal with every scenario."
Houghton was a desirable test subject because it has one dominant employer, and a median income and poverty rates that are about average for rural areas. Students asked parents and the elderly about what the environmental, economic and social impacts they believed self-driving vehicles would bring.
The results found a high number of neutral responses, between 20 and 30 percent. Participants also raised questions about unexpected topics such as land use and parking. Elderly participants were most excited about the idea of autonomous vehicles, but only 36 percent of young adults were comfortable with the idea of riding in one. Many were concerned about the high initial cost of the vehicles, and 60 percent said they wouldn't buy one. "After their research, the team felt a shared-use system would be the most feasible for a community like Houghton and help autonomous vehicle companies restore lost trust among consumers," Katerberg reports. The team also determined "there would need to be significant changes to infrastructure" to accommodate the vehicles.