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Driverless cars: A helping hand for the elderly?

(Image credit: Image source: Shutterstock/LifetimeStock)

The motoring sector is set to experience a huge shake-up over the next few months and years, as autonomous vehicles start to roll off production lines and become available for general sale. In fact, Tesla is already holding trials of its driverless Autopilot systems on roads throughout the UK. What’s more, Mercedes and Lexus are just two well-known car makers to have announced that they are researching autonomous car technology. That’s not all — automated technology is being tested by Google, while rumours are also swirling that Apple and BMW have formed a partnership which will see the duo manufacture its own vehicle, with speculation abound that this automobile will be automated as well.

Despite all the work that is going on involving autonomous cars though, the feelings of the general public about the technology still appear to be split. 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.

Opinions were once again split when researchers based at Cambridge University’s Engineering Department and the Department of Psychology conducted their own online survey. 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.

Despite plenty of opinions being shared regarding autonomous vehicles though, the technology could prove very useful to many groups in society. One of these groups is the elderly, as this article aims to showcase:

Why Waymo’s thought process regarding driverless cars is proving appealing

Feelings regarding driverless cars become a reality

Of all the companies which are working on the creation of autonomous vehicles, Waymo appears to be one firm that is leading the way. 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.

Waymo have also successfully implemented several design elements into the driverless cars that they’ve been working on. 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.

A series of buttons incorporated into the dashboard of a Waymo autonomous vehicle may also catch the eye. 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 centre when pressed.

You may not need to wait very much longer to get behind the wheel of a Waymo autonomous vehicle either. After all, plans are in place for the Waymo to launch the world’s first commercial driverless car service this month (opens in new tab)!

The day when we begin to share a road with at least one autonomous vehicle could be only a matter of weeks away then. What is the general vibe around this technology?

Once driverless cars start to be manufactured and sold in dealerships, Britain’s Transport Secretary Chris Grayling holds the opinion that the lives of both the elderly and the disabled could be transformed. 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.”

“Self-driving cars should make road travel far safer by eliminating the biggest contributory factor in accidents today — human error”, the British Transport Secretary also pointed out as another benefit that autonomous vehicles possess.

When speaking earlier this year across the Atlantic, Nancy LeaMond, the American Association of Retired Persons’ (AARP) executive vice president, also acknowledged that the elderly must be considered 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."

Another speaker in the same AARP panel discussion was Elizabeth Macnab, from the Ontario Society of Senior Citizens' Organisations. 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.

If driverless cars indeed have the capability to assist the elderly and other demographics in our society, as discussed in this article, it surely stands to reason that we should get behind the launch of autonomous vehicles in the months and years to come.

Lee Dover, Senior Copywriter, Mediaworks (opens in new tab)
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Image source: Shutterstock/LifetimeStock

Lee Dover is a Senior Copywriter at Mediaworks who has a BA (Hons) in Magazine Journalism.