Alliance for Person-Centered Accessible Technologies

an IGERT program developed by ASU & CSULB

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Gaining autonomy from an autonomous car

Via Patrick McGurrin

Forget about hands-free devices for your phone, let’s talk about a hands-free car. Get in, buckle up, and with the press of a button you hit the road. Cruising at a top speed of 25 mph may be a bit slow, but it doesn’t trump the feeling of freedom. Google’s release of their redesigned self-driving vehicle has everyone thinking about the future of transportation. The car is 100% autonomous, with the current model lacking a steering wheel or pedals.

The car relies on Google’s very detailed maps, along with global positioning satellite (GPS) technology to monitor the real-time location of the vehicle on the road. In addition, the car will rely on sensors on the external portion of the vehicle to actively sense the position of other cars, pedestrians, sudden animals crossings, or any other potential roadblock.

Perhaps the Google car is only good for the daily commute, or to take you home when you’ve had one beer too many. But let’s think bigger. One of the major problems for people with a disability is transportation. A person with a disability wants to go out, but may not have the means to do so. Of course, the Americans with Disabilities Act has induced some major improvements to the public transportation system, but the problem persists. Thirty-one percent of people with disabilities report having insufficient means of transportation, hindering their ability to work, get to medical appointments, and maintain a social life with friends and family. This lack of mobility can be extremely challenging, and often leads to a lack of independence.

I believe that the Google car, or any autonomous vehicle, holds enormous potential to help alleviate this transportation problem. Phone apps are already up-to-date with the latest assistive technology features. With that in mind, development of a person-centered app used to enter the destination would come with ease. In this way, everyone becomes a rider, and no person is limited by a disability that might otherwise prevent them from hitting the town.

For now, Google suggests that the car should be used for local driving rather than long highway drives. If that’s the only downside, then I think there is definitely some strong potential here. Google states that they want to start selling these vehicles sometime in 2015. We’ll wait and see how this story develops.