Esko Hakanen

Doctoral Student Aalto University School of Science

Pekka Töytäri

Postdoctoral Researcher Aalto University, School of Science

Autonomous vehicles and value perceptions

In this article the authors illustrate the importance of finding mutually shared and agreed perceptions of value by discussing the value created by autonomous vehicles.

Sensible decision making involves identifying the available decision options, expected outcomes of those options, and the value generated by the outcomes. When the decision is made by a group instead of an individual, situation gets complicated. The decision group members may have different expectations on the outcomes, and perceive the resulting value differently. Therefore, the decision makers may find any decision alternative good, bad, or something in between.

When making decisions, the starting point in evaluating the options should be in understanding the outcome of each decision. Unfortunately, many decisions have indirect effects that make the ex-ante evaluation of outcomes complicated, or even impossible. These questions and challenges gain relevance along the new technologies that emerging platforms enable.

What is the value that derives from a decision?

As a practical example, consider the prospects of autonomous vehicles. Removing human drivers from traffic through autonomous vehicles bring upon various elements that create value. Existing research refers to these as the dimensions of value. In turn, the particular importance of these different dimensions depends on the distinctive value perception of each individual. Different dimensions of value can influence the established perceptions on driving, owning, or sustainability. Driving-related developments include improved safety (no human errors), time saving (no need to drive provides freedom for other tasks), and higher throughput for the roads (autonomous vehicles need smaller tolerances).

In turn, owning of the cars are likely to change, as different sharing-economy based models take away the need for ownership, increase the utilization of each vehicle, and enables a reduction in the need for parking places, especially in city centers. Sustainability of the traffic increases as there are less vehicles in the roads, whereas ride-sharing solutions fill the remaining cars. However, one could disagree on the value of these changes and, for example, whether ride-sharing is a positive thing, since some of us value the seclusion of private cars or argue that privacy is prerequisite to work effectively during the trip. This indicates that all these mentioned dimensions of value in autonomous vehicles are tradeoffs in terms of perceived value.

Compromises and better compromises

Typically, decisions are compromises between two (or more) views. This implies that the achieved decision balances between two orthogonal axes, whereas the jointly experienced value increases to the top-right corner. The compromise takes place in a continuum between the two ends (see Figure 1). When the decision is composed in favor of goals set by one view (Policy A), it usually contradicts the goals set by another (Policy B). For example, Finns are accustomed to universal public healthcare, provided at reasonable cost, but with high quality. Simultaneously, an average tax payer might wish for better availability and shorter queues for the services, but for lower costs for the system through a decreased tax rate. Since a compromise takes place somewhere in between the two views, it is impossible to fulfill both competing goals simultaneously.

Therefore, rather than appealing for their cause, the decision-makers should target solutions that simultaneously increase the perceived value for both views. These resolutions require groundbreaking thinking, but when these revolutionary ideas emerge, they make the solution more appealing to both parties and shift the jointly perceived value of the achieved compromise toward the top-right corner (as illustrated in Figure 2). Both policies see themselves as winners. These solutions excel at acknowledging the value perceptions that are jointly shared between different views.

The jointly perceived value of autonomous vehicles

Revisiting the idea on the value of autonomous vehicles, what would be a change that is unanimously seen as a positive? Surely, one answer would be higher efficiency, especially if it comes without increased operating costs. Therefore, if policy makers would want to expedite the rise of autonomous vehicles, suitable arguments for their cause would be the changes that enable optimal driving in terms of energy consumption. So, how would autonomous vehicles contribute to improving fuel-efficiency?

We believe that there are a number of factors improving the economy of driving, some of which are neglected in current discussion. First, removal of human drivers enables optimizing the driving behavior and habits. Rather than educating people to drive economically, we can simply program the driving software to follow the current best practices.

Second, since the drivers become software with an internet connection, all cars can interact with each other. By knowing the destination and route plans of each vehicle, the system can even out and optimize the throughput of our roads, avoiding unnecessary congestion.[1]

Third, the interconnection allows for the cars to cooperate with each other. This cooperation makes the traffic lights obsolete, as the intersection lights can be replaced with a simple beacon. Instead of allotting time periods for drivers coming from each direction, the beacon can designate individual turns for each and every vehicle to cross the intersection.

Fourth, and perhaps most notably, no longer will the cars stop in traffic lights. Derived from the previous changes, since the vehicles are now aware of the routes of their fellow road users and are issued individual turns for each intersection, the cars will moderate their speed between junctions and arrive into each at the optimal moment. The travelling experience becomes smoother, the need for constant braking and acceleration in urban areas is eliminated, the fuel economy is improved, and the emissions are reduced, which leads to improved air quality. We posit that these factors should be in a more focal role in the current discussion.

The importance of these benefits derives from their relevance to the key dimensions of value and the shared value perceptions. The cornerstone in urban traffic planning is to minimize the average time spent waiting in traffic lights. Smooth, effortless driving is achieved when there is no wait in the intersections. Therefore, it would make sense to highlight these arguments of eliminated waiting time and improved sustainability in the public domain. These are the key benefits to society that derive from autonomous vehicles.

It’s not only the decision that counts, but the way it is perceived

Decisions are important, but equally relevant is how their outcomes are perceived. Depending on the perception, the same decision may appear to be good, bad, or somewhere in between. Sometimes, the decision-makers can lose the big picture and focus on a small detail, leading to sub-optimized decisions. By carefully considering the dimensions of value and the different value perceptions, platform actors can find solutions that all parties can agree.


[1] Underlining the relevance of the idea, there already exist solutions for this goal (such as Waze), that are currently targeted to human drivers. With autonomous vehicles, we can maximize the benefits of these systems.

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