Disability Advocates See Opportunity in Self-Driving Cars

One of Google's self-driving vehicles for people with disabilities. (Source: Google)

Advocates are determined to push regulators and manufacturers of self-driving cars to include the disabled community in the development of automated technology. The day of self-driving cars is soon going to be a reality for the general public and many disabled people see a new opportunity that could benefit their future.

According to Parnell Diggs, a board member of the National Federation of the Blind, “If an autonomous car is developed, it needs to be a means by which a blind person can operate it.” Advocates are quick to point out that self-driving cars will also be an asset for those with mobility issues and others in the disabled community.

Manufacturers, people with disabilities and the elderly will benefit from an in-depth debate regarding the technology. Automakers should take the disabled community into consideration when it comes to design and ability of the innovative invention. Mark Rosekind, National Highway Traffic Safety Administration chief, attended an autonomous car conference in Detroit and publicly stated self-driving cars had potential social benefits for the disabled community.

If self-driving cars were designed and developed with the disability community and elderly in mind, it would open up an entirely new world for many people. However, there are already some concerns that the technology will not be accommodating for disabled people.

Chris Urmson, director of Google’s self-driving cars project was disappointed when he addressed the United States Senate Commerce, Science, and Transportation Committee. Google is disappointed due to the California draft regulations. The rules indicate some levels of automation in cars. However, excludes fully self-driving cars. Google revealed details to the Senate committee stating they have a fleet of 33 prototypes for self-driving cars. This includes 23 modified SUVs that require no human intervention. Google went further by adding all of their self-driving prototypes have removable pedals and steering wheels.

California-based company, NVIDIA has developed a computer for self-driving cars. It uses artificial intelligence to inform the user of new traffic situations and share the information with other cars using similar technology. According to Danny Shapiro, senior director of NVIDIA’s Automotive Business Unit, “Our developed system is not a fixed system, it's updateable similar to a cell phone. Our system can handle the processing of different sensor inputs and is capable of sensory outputs. This is true whether it’s visual, audible or touch-based.”

Steven Shladover, one of the founders of the California PATH program cautions the disabled community not to have high expectations. Shladover states, “heightened expectations are likely unrealistic for self-driving cars at this point.” He feels the disabled community has been misled into believing that self-driving vehicles will be able to take them wherever they want to go at any time.

Shladover expresses that even those who have held driver’s licenses in the past may not be able to benefit from self-driving cars. The reason he is so insistent regarding his views is because each person has different impairments and it will be nearly impossible to create a car that will accommodate everyone in the disabled community.

Advocates continue to put pressure on the industry to include the disabled community in their development plans for self-driving cars. Advocates strongly agree that when the time comes for self-driving cars to be on public streets and are working reliably, the disabled community plans to be part of the group using the technology driven vehicle.

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