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COULD SELF-DRIVING CARS PROVIDE MOBILITY FOR THE ELDERLY

Posted on Tuesday, April 18th, 2017 at 1:38 pm    

Many older individuals and automakers are looking to self-driving/autonomous cars as a way to provide mobility for the elderly after they are unable to drive an automobile themselves. According to the Institute for Highway Safety, by the year 2030, the number of individuals over the age of 70 living in the United States is expected to increase to 53.7 million people. In 2014 there were approximately 30.9 million U.S. residents over age 70.

Joseph Coughlin, the Director of MIT’s AgeLab, stated that currently approximately 70% of the people over age 50 live in suburbs where on-demand services such as Uber and Lyft are not available.

Even if services such like Uber and Lyft are available, many individuals may not be able to afford such services for regular use. Furthermore, a recent study estimates that approximately 22% of baby boomers are now or at risk of becoming elder orphans, that is elderly adults with no children available to provide transportation. And thus, Mr. Coughlin noted that autonomous vehicles might be a way to close the coming mobility gap for an aging society.

Many automakers including Audi, GM, Ford, Nissan, Honda, Mercedes Benz, Volvo and BMW are engaged in the development of autonomous vehicles.

The engineers involved in the development of autonomous vehicles are generally aware of the importance of considering the elderly in designing self-driving cars. For example, one of the big fears expressed by the elderly is the fear of ending up in the wrong destination. Oliver Rumph-Steppat, head of BMW’s United States Production Requirements Engineering Division, stated that one way that manufacturer’s may address this fear is to rely on voice recognition systems.

Volvo plans to put approximately 100 highly automated XC90 vehicles in the hands of real world drivers in Sweden later this year as a part of its Volvo Drive Me program. And a spokesman for Volvo noted that one of the goals of this program is to see how older drivers handle the new technology.

Source: An article appearing at nytimes.com on March 23, 2017 entitled Self-Driving Cars Could Be Boon for Aged, After Initial Hurdlers by Mary M. Chapman.