Software company survey gives insights into consumer comfort with new technologies

13, Jan, 2021

Imagine being on the street one day in need of a taxi. You call a cab company, and a few minutes later a car drives up to you. There’s nobody sitting in the front seat, though, and the vehicle is entirely self-driven. If you find yourself disquieted at this prospect, you’re not alone. A recent survey entitled Robots Among Us, completed by AI software company Myplanet, revealed varying of levels of comfort from its respondents when faced with new technological developments.

Self-driving taxis fared among the worst with the survey respondents, with 64.4 per cent of them expressing discomfort at the thought of being driven around without a human at the wheel. On the other side of that comfortability index, services like home automation and hotel check-in kiosks ranked much more highly.

This relatively high comfortability rating with home automation is what makes both it and home speakers the benchmark for determining when a technology has hit the mainstream, according to Myplanet CEO Jason Cottrell. From the survey’s results, things like check-in kiosks at hotels and airport terminals have surpassed that mark by a healthy margin.

Cottrell’s team did another survey on retail and grocery technologies, and found that checkout-less shopping is something else with a growing level of consumer comfort.

“We did actually find reasonable comfort with this one, more than we expected on first go,” Cottrell says. “The societal readiness for checkout-less grocery is actually higher than the prevalence of the technology and the rollout of the technology.”

As to why retailers have been slow to embrace this particular innovation, Cottrell points to its unproven nature and the questions around implementation that have emerged.

“Relatively few retailers want to and can invest to execute on this. They need something that's reasonably packaged, supported and proven,” he says.

That need is a vacuum that can be filled by innovators who can find a way to neatly bundle all of the pieces.

“We see a demand in here actually, A.) for tech companies that can help bring that offering together and bring together the piece parts and backstop that for retailers,” Cottrell says.

“The other side of it is, for those firms that can make the investment, they'll have a window there. They can capitalize on that by actually offering something consumers want, and other firms will struggle to match.”

Checkout-less grocery tech wasn’t the only kind that customers seemed to be more prepared for than companies. The Robots Among Us survey also showed that consumer comfortability levels with robot package delivery outpaced business availability.

Respondents were shown images of multiple types of robots carrying packages, and asked to choose which models made them the most comfortable. Bipeds, four-legged cubes the size of dogs and bots that looked like cabinets on wheels were all shown to the respondents.

“We found that, almost regardless of form, again this is a scenario where availability of this technology right now doesn't match the actual consumer demand,” Cottrell notes.

When it comes to accepting new forms of technology, Cottrell points to convenience and entertainment as two things that help consumers to embrace it. As well, the respondents in the grocery and retail survey were more amenable to new high-tech devices when the devices were presented as a package. Conversely, when the individual pieces making up these technologies were discussed, user comfortability dropped.

“If I asked someone about geofencing or in-store facial recognition, or AI targeted campaigns, generally those are ranking lower in our overall study,” Cottrell says.

“Wrapped together into a service consumers find value in … then we tend to find that [consumers] accept these things in exchange for convenience and entertainment.”

Read more: Trends and tips around the e-commerce industry

While it may be useful for companies to leverage that information, it’s also important as consumers that we recognize what goes into the newest gadgets and gizmos. After all, from the results in these surveys, while some may think they’re comfortable with allowing a new innovation into their lives, once they find out how the sauce is made, they might have second thoughts about tasting it.

This process works both ways, depending on the tech. If consumers learn more about the specifics of certain new devices and solutions, they might swing the other way and warm up to them more quickly. Cottrell points to autonomous driving technology in the survey as an example of this.

“When we break out the components of autonomous driving and present them as driver assist, all of a sudden, they're presented much more favourably,” he says, “so user experience or feature bread crumbing is something that I think smart manufacturers and autonomous transport are doing.”

For now, the idea of a self-driving taxi might spook us, and we might be completely open to a new type of shopping. If we peep under the hood, though, and start to understand the individual components, we might all just be in store for a change in perspective.


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