The motoring industry may be about to witness one of its most significant alterations, as self-driving vehicles begin to launch to the public. Google is already trialing its automated technology on the road, and so is Tesla with its driverless Autopilot system being tested on roads throughout the UK. Lexus and Mercedes have both also revealed they are working on autonomous car technology, while there have been rumors swirling that BMW and Apple have collaborated on the development of their own vehicle — an automobile that could well be automated too.

There is a lot of skepticism when it comes to self-driving vehicles among the public at the moment though. In fact, a survey by AAA suggested that around 75 per cent of the public are currently fearful about riding in a self-driving car.

Several groups in our society could see autonomous vehicles providing them with a huge helping hand, however, and that includes our senior citizens. This is especially apparent when considering the Surface Transportation Policy Project titled ‘Aging Americans: Stranded Without Options’. This study revealed that 20 per cent of Americans over 65 do not drive at all. In this article, innovative stairlift manufacturer Acorn Stairlifts has look further at just how driverless cars have the capability to assist elderly people…

Putting Waymo’s technique at building autonomous vehicles under the spotlight

One of the innovators regarding the development of self-driving vehicles has to be Waymo. A company which started out as the autonomous car division at Google, the firm’s driverless cars have already been driven at least 3.5 million miles in 22 test cities — with one test seeing a blind man successfully being able to complete a test ride by himself.

A number of design elements have been successfully incorporated into the driverless vehicles developed by Waymo. These features have the intention to help the elderly, as well as individuals with disabilities, when they are heading out on a road trip.

The screens placed within Waymo’s autonomous vehicles are bound to be appreciated by people who are hearing-impaired, for example. These screens, which are close to the same size as a laptop computer’s screen, allow individuals to follow a route, as well as view selected information such as any traffic signals, crosswalks, pedestrians, cyclists and other road users encountered while getting from A to B.

Several buttons have also been designed into the dashboard of a Waymo self-driving car. People who are familiar with cars which have rolled off production lines over the past few years are likely to have already come across a ‘Start’ button. However, Waymo vehicles also come complete with a ‘Pull Over’ button and a ‘Help’ button that will begin a two-way voice communication connection with a control center when pressed.

The reaction of those in the motoring industry about autonomous vehicles

Chris Grayling, who is the British Transport Secretary, believes that driverless vehicles have the potential to change the lives of both the disabled and the elderly for the better. Promoting the benefits of this new form of transport on both the economy and society in a speech made at the Association of British Insurers’ annual conference in London, Mr Grayling said: “The potential benefits of these new technologies for human mobility — and for wider society — are tremendously exciting.

“Many who can’t currently drive will be able to take to the road. Elderly people or people with disabilities which prevent them from travelling today will discover a new sense of freedom and independence.”

Another benefit of driverless cars, according to Britain’s Transport Secretary, is that “self-driving cars should make road travel far safer by eliminating the biggest contributory factor in accidents today — human error”.

Nancy LeaMond, the executive vice president of the American Association of Retired Persons (AARP), has been keen to focus more on how elderly people are always considered during the design phase of any autonomous vehicle. In a speech made during an AARP panel discussion at the North American International Auto Show last year, she explained: “This is a critical part of livable communities as we talk to mayors and other officials around the country.

“To be successful, people of all ages will need to trust the machine to do the driving and right now there is a very significant trust gap. A full three-quarters of U.S. drivers of all ages report feeling afraid to ride in a self-driving car.”

Elizabeth Macnab, who is from the Ontario Society of Senior Citizens’ Organizations, was also part of the AARP panel discussion. She pointed out that there are a few considerations which must be made to ensure driverless cars are indeed appealing to elderly people, including:

  1. The vehicles should be affordable to senior citizens on a fixed income.
  2. The vehicles should be accessible to senior citizens who need to use mobility aids and walking devices to get around.
  3. The manufacturers of autonomous vehicles should commit to providing training to elderly people about how to correctly use a driverless car.

It seems clear then that autonomous vehicles may well help senior citizens and many other demographics within our society to remain on the road. Therefore, it surely stands to reason that this shift in the automobile world is a change we should be ready to get behind.


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Categories: Motoring