Perhaps predictably, online conversations about autonomous vehicles turned markedly negative this summer after a fatal crash involving the driver of a Tesla Model S operated in Autopilot mode.
What's less predictable -- and more encouraging to developers of self-driving vehicles -- is that consumers remain optimistic that autonomous drive is the "next big thing in the auto space," according to a new study done for Automotive News.
MavenMagnet, a social data research company that combs through online discussions, noted the changing attitudes by comparing comments before and after the Tesla accident became news on July 30.
The study sifted through thousands of conversations. It analyzed U.S. consumers, trying to sort out their attitudes toward a disruptive technology with positive and negative possibilities.
"It was not a surprise that safety was a big concern and became a bigger concern," said Aditya Ghuwalewala, MavenMagnet founder. "What was more surprising was that even after the accident, there was optimism that this was the next big thing."
Ghuwalewala added that people posting opinions online split over the responsibilities of human drivers and autonomous technology.
"It's a very engaging topic, from the look of the conversations," he said.