Driverless cars and the assistance they can provide to the elderly

We’re only a matter of years, if not mere months, away from beginning to share the roads with driverless vehicles. Mercedes and Lexus are just two well-known vehicle manufacturers which have announced that they are studying autonomous car technology, while rumours have done the rounds that BMW will be partnering with Apple to manufacture a vehicle that could also be automated. Google is testing its own version of automated technology too, not to mention Tesla trialling its driverless Autopilot systems on roads throughout the UK.

People share different opinions about self-driving vehicles at the moment though. In an independent survey of 10,000 drivers conducted by the RSA Insurance Group, for instance, almost six in ten motorists were excited about the development of driverless cars. However, more than a quarter of respondents raised concerns about whether these types of vehicles can be hacked and would be vulnerable to crashing.

Opinions were also split when researchers from the Engineering Department and the Department of Psychology at Cambridge University analysed the results of an online survey which they conducted involving 2,850 UK residents. This is because while 10 per cent of those involved in the survey said that they would definitely use a fully driverless vehicle, another 15 per cent of respondents replied that they definitely would not use this type of automobile.

Driverless vehicles do have the potential to help several groups in our society though, such as the elderly. Join innovative stairlift manufacturer Acorn Stairlifts as they go into further detail about how autonomous vehicles may soon be assisting older members of the public…

Appealing factors of Waymo’s development of driverless vehicles

Waymo must be considered a leading figure in the development of self-driving vehicles. 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 at incorporating several design elements into the 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 fitted into the cabins of the autonomous vehicles as an example. These devices are approximately the size of a laptop computer’s screen and are 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.

What’s more, a Waymo driverless car’s dashboard features a series of buttons. 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.

Autonomous vehicles — are they getting the thumbs up or the thumbs down?

As Waymo is putting plans in place to release its commercial driverless car service, we could be driving alongside an autonomous vehicle very soon. So, what is the general vibe around this technology?

The Transport Secretary of Britain, Chris Grayling, holds the opinion that self-driving vehicles can transform the lives of the disabled and the elderly. 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.”

Mr Grayling pointed out another potential benefit of autonomous vehicles, in 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), has been keen to state that older people must be considered while autonomous vehicles are being designed.

In a speech made during a AARP panel discussion at the North American International Auto Show, Ms LeaMond noted: “This is a critical part of liveable 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.”

AARP’s panel discussion at the North American International Auto Show also involved Ontario Society of Senior Citizens’ Organizations’ Elizabeth Macnab. 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 elderly people on a fixed income.
  2. The vehicles should be accessible to elderly people 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.

If it is indeed the case that elderly citizens and other members of our society can benefit from driverless cars, surely the introduction of this type of vehicle is something that we can all throw our support behind.





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Noman covers automotive news and reviews for Unfinished Man. His passion for cars informs his in-depth assessments of the latest models and technologies. Noman provides readers with insightful takes on today's top makes and models from his hands-on testing and research.

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