Autonomous vehicles – new independence for the elderly?
Another week, another round of autonomous vehicle announcements.
The last seven days’ worth included a few that caught our attention here, not least the news that Voyage’s self-driving cars are set to be introduced to The Villages, a 125,000-resident retirement community in Florida, US.
This second ‘deployment’ will see the company’s autonomous vehicles operating across 750 miles (approx. 1,200 km) of roads, which should provide plenty of real-world data and feedback.
Kelsea Morse Manly, Director of Operations at The Villages, stated that “Driverless technology offers a promising new option for staying mobile and active in a safe, affordable way.” Others concur, suggesting that those who stand to benefit the most from the introduction of autonomous vehicles could be older people, who are at risk of isolation and loneliness due to lack of mobility, distance to loved ones and decreased driving ability.
Indeed, in the same week, GEM Motoring Assist issued a press release calling for ‘family members to be wise to the early signs of unsafe driving in their senior relatives’. Could autonomous vehicles ensure older people continue to enjoy mobility without putting themselves and others at risk?
A word of caution should be sounded, however. Does the new trial also highlight the current limitations of autonomous vehicles? Images of The Village show a generally low-level landscape, with clearly marked and well-maintained roads. Traffic (of all types, including pedestrian) appears to be less dense, and the types of weather that are most confusing to autonomous vehicles (such as snow) are highly unlikely – though even Florida has its share of hazards, with a six-month-long hurricane season…
Nevertheless, after a couple of headline-grabbing knockbacks, this bit of news is positive for the development of self-driving cars, and we – like everyone else in the automotive world – will watch for results with interest.