Can you imagine the day when we’re sharing the road with autonomous vehicles? This moment may not be too far away. After all, Tesla has trialled its driverless Autopilot systems on roads across the UK already and Google is looking into automated technology too. Mercedes and Lexus are just two well-known car manufacturers to have made announcements that they’re working on autonomous car technology as well, while a rumour has floated around the motoring industry that Apple and BMW have joined forces to create a vehicle which may well be automated.
There’s a split in opinion about driverless cars at the moment though. Take an independent survey of 10,000 drivers carried out by the RSA Insurance Group as an example. While close to six in ten motorists stated that they were excited about driverless cars being developed, over a quarter of those who were involved in the study were worried about whether such vehicles could be hacked or would end up being vulnerable to crashing.
When researchers at Cambridge University’s Engineering Department and the Department of Psychology launched their own online survey, there was another split in opinion. The study involved 2,850 UK residents, with 15 per cent of those who took part saying that they definitely would not use a fully driverless vehicle but another 10 per cent stating that they would in fact definitely use an entirely autonomous automobile.
So many groups in our society have the potential to benefit from autonomous vehicles, however, including elderly citizens as Straight Stairlifts Long Beach has explored in this article…
Waymo’s attention-grabbing driverless cars
One organisation that appears focused on making autonomous vehicles a reality on roads across the globe is 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.
During their work on driverless cars, Waymo has been successful in implementing several design elements into their vehicles. These features have the intention to help the elderly, as well as individuals with disabilities, when they are heading out on a road trip. Take the screens which are housed in the cabin of the brand’s autonomous vehicles, for instance. These screens are approximately the size of a laptop computer’s screen and sure to prove handy to individuals on-board the vehicle who are hearing-impaired. This is because these screens 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.
Then there are the buttons which placed onto the dashboard of a Waymo autonomous vehicle. 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 moment when you can step behind the wheel of a Waymo driverless car may not be far away either. After all, plans are in place for Waymo to launch the world’s first commercial driverless car service this month!
How the motoring world feels about driverless cars becoming a reality
Driving along a road and seeing an autonomous vehicle could be very close then. What is the general vibe around this technology?
The Transport Secretary of Britain, Chris Grayling, holds the opinion that autonomous vehicles could transform the lives of both the elderly and the disabled. 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 potential benefit of autonomous vehicles, according to Mr Grayling, is that “self-driving cars should make road travel far safer by eliminating the biggest contributory factor in accidents today — human error”.
Meanwhile, Nancy LeaMond, the executive vice president of the American Association of Retired Persons (AARP), was keen to point out that the elderly must be thought about while driverless cars were being designed. Speaking during a AARP panel discussion at the North American International Auto Show, Ms LeaMond underlined: “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.”
Also speaking at the AARP panel discussion was Elizabeth Macnab, of the Ontario Society of Senior Citizens’ Organizations. She pointed out that there are a few considerations which must be made to ensure driverless cars are indeed appealing to elderly people, including:
- The vehicles should be affordable to elderly people on a fixed income.
- The vehicles should be accessible to elderly people who need to use mobility aids and walking devices to get around.
- The manufacturers of autonomous vehicles should commit to providing training to elderly people about how to correctly use a driverless car.
There is the potential that elderly people, as well as many other demographics which make up our society, could benefit from driverless cars then. Therefore, it surely stands to reason that we should get behind the launch of autonomous vehicles in the months and years to come.