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Autonomous Lingo in the Repair Space

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March 4, 2021—Advertising campaigns have been overestimating vehicle’s capabilities since the 1960s, but with today’s technology, hyperbolic language has the power to be dangerous. 

In the 1960s, Chrysler ran a campaign for its Imperial model, advertising it as “foot-less driving” said Daniel McGehee, director of the National Advanced Driving Simulator and associate professor of industrial and systems engineering at the University of Iowa. How is it foot-less, you’re wondering?

“Cruise control,” said McGehee. “In the mid 1960s, the Imperial was heavily marketed towards women, inferring you won’t run your stockings if you drive this car.” 

Today’s vehicles equipped with advanced driver assistance systems are not advertised as foot-less, but even more misleading, “driverless,” which implies that the occupant doesn’t have to, and perhaps shouldn’t, pay attention to how the vehicle is acting, which McGehee said, couldn’t be further from the truth.


What’s in a name? 

McGehee said ADAS features were not created to replace the driver, but rather to enhance the driver’s abilities by “looking over the driver’s shoulder.”

Ad campaigns that show highly intelligent ADAS features as “self-driving” and “driverless” are not only inaccurate but could lead to potentially dangerous assumptions being made. “ADAS means the car is looking over your shoulder,” said McGehee, “It’s not automation, it is not controlling the vehicle independent of the driver.” 

Liza Dixon, a PhD candidate at Bosch studying human-machine interaction in automated driving, coined the term “autonowashing” to refer to the phenomena of “making something appear to be more autonomous than it really is,” which she said could have catastrophic consequences.  


Why is language important?

McGehee says the language used to describe ADAS features is highly important from a consumer perspective. 

“Using the wrong language leads drivers to make assumptions and overestimate the ability of the car,” he said. 

Take extended “hands free” for instance. McGehee said such a thing does not exist. 

“The only reason anything is hands free is because it requires the driver to pay attention to the road ahead,” he said. “You can’t read the paper or get on your iPad, your eyes have to be locked ahead with features like General Motors' Smart Cruise. It’s not hands free driving, it has a bunch of caveats.” 

Dixon said the best defense against autonowashing is education.

“The main issue is the generally low level of public knowledge about this technology,” she said. “Drivers are not empowered enough to know which questions to ask when they buy a car [with ADAS features]. 


What should repairers know? 

When it comes to the collision repair space, McGehee said repairers carry a heavy responsibility. From the language used to describe the damage to the vehicle, to the fastidious systems requiring calibration, McGehee said language is of the utmost importance. 

“Repair shops today need to be well versed in the kinds of computer vision technologies, radar, ultrasonic sensors, and more that are in production today,” he said. 

Learning the names and components of ADAS features is vital for service and repair shops on two fronts, he said.

“For technicians to work on ADAS systems, they need to be familiar with these new sensor systems and how they need to be calibrated,” McGehee said, in addition to the names of various ADAS features and how they differ from each manufacturer. 

He also said that technicians need to learn the lingo to know how to explain the vehicle’s capabilities to the owner so they know what to expect both before and after the repair. 

If the best defense against autonowashing is education, repairers are uniquely positioned to begin closing the knowledge gap.

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