Most people have wished to avoid hectic driving experiences and dream about a self-driving car. Traveling is one of the challenges for persons with disabilities or the elderly. Some of them may have never driven a car. Others may have been forced to give up driving. Autonomous cars (self-driving cars) could help persons with disabilities to expand their transportation options in the future.
Since the first self-sufficient cars appeared in the 1980s, automobile manufactures have been working on prototypes. The main manufactures include Google, Audi, Mercedes-Benz, Toyota, Nissan, and Volvo. You might have seen a Google self-driving car on Youtube a few years ago (the YouTube video links are at the bottom of this blog.)
Steve Mahan & a Google self-driving car (2012)
Today Mercedes and Audi have tested speed and long distance driving in both Europe and US. British-based auto-firm Delphi has completed a trip from coast-to-coast (San Francisco to New York – 3500 miles) with its self-driving car this year. Self-driving vehicles may become officially available to public by 2020 (Wikipedia).
Self-Driving Car Completes Drive Across America 99% Autonomously (March 2015)
Autonomous driving cars use a combination of cameras, laser and radar, sensors, maps, GPS, high-end microprocessors, and software to mimic human-like decisions such as parking, driving through congested areas, and traffic. Some designs have touch-sensitive sensors that monitor the driver to keep his hands on the wheel periodically.
Manufacturers still face challenges and need to clear hurdles of their self-driving car designs such as driving in hazardous road conditions (heavy rain and snow), navigating in a congested parking lot, protecting the car’s software from computer glitches and hackers, and distinguishing between police officers or pedestrians. It may be necessary to establish additional traffic regulations and smart-road infrastructure standards, such as systems that can relay traffic and accident data in real time. On the other hand, most of automobile accidents are based on human errors. According to an article appeared on Wall Street Journal (March 2015), a new report by a consulting firm McKinsey & Co states that self-driving vehicles could eliminate 90% of all auto accidents in the U.S.; prevent up to $190 billion in damages and health-costs annually and save thousands of lives.
For persons with disabilities, they may have challenges in accessibility to get in-and-out of a self-driving car, the limited space for a wheelchair, and the identification and location to unfamiliar places. For example, if a self-driving car needs to adjust a regular drop-off location to avoid a new construction site, which may appear overnight, the unexpected changes will create challenges for persons with disabilities (i.e. Blind). I hope that manufacturers will continue their designs with handicapped drivers in mind (i.e. accessibility to the car or a space for a wheelchair user or various prompt options). A paratransit system could implement including self-driving cars as an individual or a shared-ride transportation to provide a door-to-door service for the handicapped (i.e. MetroAccess). Then self-driving cars will make transportation available to more handicapped persons and reduce the waiting time for each rider. In addition, self-driving cars can expand more employment opportunities for disabled and those who live a far distance away.
Here are a few more videos about self-driving cars from YouTube.
Google Self-Driving Car Test: Steve Mahan (Audio Described) – published May 2012
A First Drive Google self-driving car project – published May 2014
CES 2015 Trying to crash in a self-parking BMW – published January 2015
AUDI RS7 NO DRIVER 149mph – published January 2015
Mercedes Self Driving Future Truck test – published January 2015