Sometimes it's tough to make sense of the hodgepodge of technologies that currently describe the "self-driving car" buzzword, from lane departure warning systems all the way up to Tesla Autopilot, not to mention industry jargon like "Level 5 automation."
So why not organize autonomous driving technologies by how much people think they're worth? That's what a group of economists and engineers tried to do in a paper published in March, CNET reports. The model suggests that on average, Americans are willing to pay a $3,500 premium for a partially automated car and a $4,900 premium for a fully automated one.
For comparison, $4,900 for full automation is very similar to what Tesla charges for its most advanced Autopilot, which costs a little over $5,000.
The researchers' model is based on interviews with 27 potential car buyers in New York City and upstate New York. As you might expect, just four of the New York City residents drove a car every day, while all of the 15 upstate New Yorkers commuted via car daily. The two groups perceived similar benefits from self-driving cars, from increased productivity and safety to easier and quicker parking.
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After crunching the numbers, the researchers found a fairly even segmentation of the demand for automation: about one-third of people are keenly interested and willing to pay $10,000 or more for self-driving features, one-third are ambivalent, and the remainder isn't willing to pay for automation at any price.
As the researchers note, however, one of the key problems with such a study is that it's based on a hypothetical purchase scenario: their study participants weren't actually buying a car, and even if they were, there are very few models on the market that come with full automation on the level of the Tesla Autopilot.
Still, it's good to establish a peer-reviewed benchmark for how much self-driving tech should cost at this early stage in its development. If it follows the cheapening pattern of most other technology (and the government continues to urge its inclusion in new cars), you might one day be able to do yoga in your Toyota Corolla on the highway for far less than $5,000.
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