March 6, 2017 | Written by: Sheila Zinck
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People love their cars. For most teenagers, getting their license is a much anticipated milestone, increasing their independence and opening up new opportunities and adventure (often to the chagrin of their parents). For most older adults, the day they decide to stop driving is also a milestone, albeit a dreaded one representing a loss of freedom and control over their lives.
Unless they are living in a major metropolitan area well served by safe, reliable public transportation, most seniors rely on cars for their daily activities – shopping, errands, visiting friends and family, involvement in community activities, appointments and cultural events. And, when they surrender the keys, the emotional and physical impact can be high.
According to Dr. Kevin Manning, neuropsychologist and assistant professor of psychiatry at UConn Health Center for Aging, “We know that when someone can no longer drive, there is an increased risk of depression and mortality because you are taking away their independence.”
As part of our work to create the world’s most accessible, self-driving vehicle, we recently visited four retirement communities in Southern California. With the Front Porch Center for Innovation and Wellbeing, we held a series of focus groups with the residents to gauge their reaction to self-driving vehicles, as well as get their recommendations for improvements to Olli.
Many of the residents were still driving their own cars and expressed a great deal of reluctance to stop. As one participant shared, “I’ve been driving since I was 14. Driving is part of who I am, and when I stop I am not sure who I will be.”
However, nearly all voiced concerns about the dangers of continuing to drive. While some pointed to their visual and mobility issues, many worried more about other drivers and traffic. Several no longer drove at night or to unfamiliar locations. With local public transportation limited and the costs of taxis and ride services like Uber and Lyft relatively high, most were frustrated with a limited set options and feeling increasingly isolated.
When we introduced Olli, we expected skepticism on self-driving and questions about safety. Instead, the most common inquiry was, “How soon can we get this at my community?”
The residents were eager to share their ideas on improving Olli, and suggested the following:
- Personalize the interaction with Olli, with options to receive and give information via speech for those with visual impairments, or text or haptic (touch) technology for those with hearing loss.
- For those using a cane, walker or wheelchair, have Olli automatically adjust the entrance and seat height as well as provide a storage area for their assistive devices.
- Provide a voice activated service or app to call for or schedule an Olli ride.
After our workshops at the FrontPorch communities, I’m convinced that the most enthusiastic early adopters of self-driving vehicles will be older adults.
We encourage everyone to get involved and share their thoughts on possible ways of designing a vehicle to be more accessible to people of all abilities. Please use #AccessibleOlli on Twitter or post your thoughts in the comments section below.