Aging and Driving New Tech
If you are wondering about the status of the driverless vehicle, there is an article by Bryan Reimer that you should read.
But first, consider that new vehicles bought off the lot today, are typically equipped with power steering, power brakes, and an automatic transmission. When the Baby Boomers acquired their first cars, in the 1960’s and 1970’s those were “luxury options” that could be ordered on some vehicles, for a hefty fee. As the Baby Boomers age, they can only hope that their final, ultimate vehicle will be equipped with a further set of options: radar-like sensors, adaptive cruise control and automatic braking.
The MIT scientist, Bryan Reimer says that in many ways, the automated, driverless vehicle will solve aging-in-suburbia. “A fully automated vehicle will transform business, safety, and urban design…. there will no longer be a need for taxis, designated drivers, and possibly even parking garages.” Reimer notes that, “the automated car would all but solve the mobility impairments associated with advancing age.”
However, we are not there yet. Automotive engineering will have to progress through distinct stages. Reimer does not give a timetable for these stages, but if Baby Boomers are sincere in their desire to “age in place,” the ground work needs to be underway. In ten years, the youngest of the Boomers will reach age 60, and nearly 20 percent of the U.S. population will be age 65 and older.
“Level-one stages” of automation, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), are partially met. When a driver looses control, electronic stability control helps “steer” the vehicle and more advanced systems also reduce engine power until control is regained. In 1995, luxury vehicles like Mercedes-Benz and BMW incorporated electronic stability control and it has gradually been recognized for its role in preventing accidents. It has been phased into new car production since 2009 and become mandatory since 2012. Future examples of level-one automations are a collision-imminent braking system, lane keeping assist, and adaptive cruise control.
With level-two automation, drivers will partially cede control of some functions to automation. At level-three, still somewhat undefined says Reimer, there are further functions that move from driver to computer. Parking-assist, which is available on some cars today, is a precursor of automation to come. For some, it is unimaginable to have a car do what many drivers cannot accomplish themselves….parallel parking! But, on a more homely and practical level, motorists might want this capability if they have physical difficulty turning their neck, or moving the steering wheel quickly.
The adoption of the driverless car can be compared to the adoption of cell phones. In the 1990s, cell phones were still expensive and bulky. An interim technology, the cordless, but tethered receiver, initiated users to the advantages of a wireless, mobile phone. If you asked someone in 1990 why he/she needed a mobile phone without a cord, he/she would be puzzled. The driverless car is equally mysterious and misunderstood today. And, until it is more widely demonstrated, people react to it with a certain mistrust of robotics and AI. But, the automated car is like the “cell phone” for those who want to age-in-place and plan to combine aging and driving. Boomers, who are fond of driving today, will seek out this technology as their ticket to aging-in-place, particularly if that place is suburbia.