How driverless cars can have the capability to help the elderly

14th February 2019
Posted By : Anna Flockett
How driverless cars can have the capability to help the elderly

With the introduction of autonomous vehicles onto public roads in the near future, there’s no doubting that a shift in the automobile world is almost upon us. Google has already started tests with automated technology in real-world situations, while Tesla has been trialing its driverless Autopilot system within the UK. Lexus and Mercedes are a pair of big-name vehicle manufacturers to have revealed that they are working on technology for self-driving cars too, and then there are rumors that BMW and Apple have partnered to develop a vehicle that may well be automated as well.

While driverless cars are becoming more popular with those in the automobile industry, there still appears to be some way to go until the public feel comfortable about the technology. For example, a AAA survey has found that close to 75% of people are fearful about being inside a self-driving car.

However, various groups within our society could benefit from autonomous vehicles becoming a common scene on our roads. One of these groups is the senior citizens among us, especially when you bear in mind a study that was part of a Surface Transportation Policy Project titled ‘Aging Americans: Stranded Without Options’ revealed 20% of Americans aged over 65 years old do not drive at all. Acorn Stairlifts, a renowned stairlifts manufacturer, has offered more insight into how elderly people could potentially see their lives transformed with the launch of self-driving cars…

Shining the spotlight on Waymo’s approach to driverless cars
Waymo began life as Google’s autonomous car division and have quickly led the way when it comes to the development of self-driving vehicles. In fact, the organisation has recorded over 3.5 million miles when trialing its driverless automobiles in 22 test cities. A blind man way even able to complete a test ride on his own during one of Waymo’s tests.

Multiple design elements have been looked at by Waymo while they’ve been developing driverless cars too, with these features intended to assist senior citizens and those with disabilities while they are on a road trip.

Take the screens fitted to the cabin of a Waymo autonomous vehicle which are approximately the size of a laptop screen as an example. People will be able to use these screens to follow a route that the vehicle is taking, on top of viewing information like any crosswalks, traffic signals, cyclists, pedestrians and other road users that they pass during a commute.

Within the dashboard of a Waymo self-driving car, you can also find a series of buttons. As well as a ‘Start’ button that has also become common on modern cars, there’s a ‘Pull Over’ button and a ‘Help’ button — the latter launches a two-way voice communication connection whenever it’s used.

Excited to get behind the wheel of one of these driverless cars? You may not need to be too patient, as Waymo is gearing up to launch the world’s first commercial driverless car service any day now!

Opinions from the AARP about the launch of driverless cars
Ahead of their release onto public roads, AARP’s executive vice president Nancy LeaMond stated that elderly people must be considered during the design stage of any autonomous vehicle.

"This is a critical part of livable communities as we talk to mayors and other officials around the country,” LeaMond pointed out when making a speech at an American Association of Retired Persons (AARP) panel discussion held at the 2018 North American International Auto Show.

"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 US drivers of all ages report feeling afraid to ride in a self-driving car."

The Ontario Society of Senior Citizens' Organisations’ Elizabeth Macnab was part of the American Association of Retired Persons (AARP) panel discussion too, acknowledging that the following points must be considered if autonomous vehicles are indeed going to prove appealing to older people:

  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

Opinions from the British Transport Secretary about the launch of driverless cars
On the other side of the pond, Chris Grayling, who is the British Transport Secretary, went as far as to state his feelings that autonomous vehicles can change the lives of the elderly and the disabled for the better.

“The potential benefits of these new technologies for human mobility — and for wider society — are tremendously exciting,” Grayling said when making a speech at the Association of British Insurers’ annual conference which was held in London last year.

“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.”

On top of this, the British Transport Secretary commented that: “Self-driving cars should make road travel far safer by eliminating the biggest contributory factor in accidents today — human error” and that this should be seen as another mark in favor of driverless vehicles.

Self-driving vehicles certainly appear to have their advantages for the elderly and other demographics within our society. Therefore, maybe we shouldn’t feel so skeptical about this change that is being witnessed in the automobile industry.


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Agile for Automotive 2019
15th May 2019
United States of America Detroit, MI