TRAVERSE CITY, Mich. -- SAE International has been tasked by the federal government with devising standards around the development and deployment of self-driving vehicles.
But what good are rules if John Q. Public is too scared to get inside a robocar in the first place?
That's why, in addition to setting guidelines, SAE is putting on its best dealer hat and letting the public take test rides in autonomous vehicles to spread awareness, dispel myths and get people more used to the idea of taking their hands off the wheel.
"You can have all of this technology and all of this design, but if the public fundamentally doesn't understand or trust it, it's going to be very difficult to scale," Frank Menchaca, SAE's chief product officer, said in an interview.
This year, the organization went to Tampa, Fla., to offer test rides along a section of the highway. About 300 people participated in what SAE believes was the first such event open to the public.
SAE interviewed people before and after they rode in the self-driving car in the hopes of establishing what Menchaca called "a database of public sentiment."
"It's unique in that we're doing it as a public and social service," Menchaca said. "We're looking to create a fact base where people can begin to understand their role with this technology."
Although many of those who took rides were skeptical, Menchaca said the overall sentiment was positive.
One rider stood out: a curious 90-year-old man who "wanted to see what all the fuss was about."
Once the man took a ride, he was impressed, Menchaca said.
"It reminded me of when I was a little kid and they had these things called airplanes, and no one quite knew how it was going to go," Menchaca recalled the man saying. "I think it's going to be OK."