At 94 years young, Florence Swanson has seen the evolution of the American auto industry first hand, and recently took it to another level by winning a Google contest, and stepping into the car of the future: an autonomous vehicle. Swanson stated, that one hasn’t lived until getting into one of ‘those cars’. She also stated she felt quite safe, and the Austin Texas resident could not believe that a vehicle could talk.
Google is hoping others will feel the same way. With over 43 million Americans now 65 years of age or older, as well as 10,000 individuals reaching that mark daily, U.S. seniors are become an organic target market for self-driving cars. With seniors needing to be mobile to make it to doctors appointments, shopping needs, and for social reasons; autonomous cars just may be the solution many aging Americans can count on when it comes to getting from point ‘A’ to point ‘B’.
MSN reported that Joseph Coughlin, Massachusetts Institute of Technology’s AgeLab seems to be on this page. He believes this will mark a new era for the older generation in history to become leaders for new technology, and he states it’s the 50+ demographic that may be the first customers lining up for self-driving vehicles.
In January of this year, John Krafcik, CEO of Google’s Self- Driving Car Project showcased Florence while at Detroit presentation; pointing out that his mom is 96 years old, and that she, as well as Swanson gave up their freedom about a decade ago, when they gave up their driving licenses. He goes on to point out that autonomous cars can create a powerful difference for seniors like his mom and Florence; adding that mobility should be open to millions worldwide … and not just those with licenses.
Ford Motor Co. also sees this vision. The company has recently created designs within their self-driving vehicles, specially targeting seniors; with a ‘third age suit’ that has gloves that can decrease finger strengthen and control, as well as glasses to impair vision.
With Japan having a disproportionate amount of seniors who are driving and getting injured or causing driving accidents, Toyota Motor Corp. is not too far behind in this self-driving car race, hiring Gill Pratt to head up the company’s research institute. For those who may not know, Pratt once worked at the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) and also lead the DARPA’s Robotics Challenge. Toyota is said to be laying down $1 billion on robotics technology to remove driver errors and decrease deaths due to traffic accidents.
Florence Swanson was lucky enough to be given the opportunity to ride in Google’s new and improved self-driving Lexus SUV; she sat in the back with her daughter (70 years of age), while a driver sat up front, with a Google employee riding shotgun. Google was asked if senior customers will be used when testing their autonomous cars, and Coughlin’s reply was that he did not think so, due to ‘transitional issues’. He stated that younger individuals have more of a trust when it comes to technology, while older participants tend to want to know what is happening.