I am extremely excited about self-driving cars. I got my driver’s license as a teenager, and then promptly went to college in the city and never drove again. By the time I was in my 20’s and got a job, I was visually impaired. As a result, driving has never really been a big part of my life. In fact, I HATED driving when I actually had the chance to do it. Some people find it calming and more power to them, but for me it’s just a stressful cacophony of things I need to pay attention to in order to not die.
You can probably tell that losing the ability to drive wasn’t a huge hardship for me. When I realized it probably wasn’t safe for me to drive because I see double permanently, I honestly didn’t care. That was until I started looking into moving away from Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. Say what you will about their public transportation (ok, I’ll say it, it’s pretty bad…) but Pittsburgh is a walkable city. If it was daytime and the destination was within the city limits, I could get myself pretty much anywhere.
So I was thinking about moving and started to look into cities with great tech writing opportunities. Almost all of them required me to drive myself to work every day. Offices weren’t accessible by bus, or affordable housing was a drive away, or some other issue. I even had some interviewers suggest I rent a car at the airport to get to the interview site. Yeah, that wasn’t going to happen.
Ready…Set…Let a Robot Drive!
Lucky for me, people are seriously working on this problem. I first heard about self-driving cars in 2012 when someone lived the dream and newspaper headlines rang out, “Google’s Self Driving Car Takes Blind Man To Taco Bell.” Now there’s my personal hero. Brave enough to try out new tech and awesome enough to go to Taco Bell with this great new chance. Recently, there has been a renewed interest in the self-driving technology, so I thought it was time to highlight this advancement and show just how much accessible technology can mean to people like me.
Back in October, MIT’s Technology Review explored the current state of self-driving cars. They talked to the staff at Perkins, which is the country’s oldest school for the blind, “’Autonomous vehicles will be transformative for people who are blind,’ says Dave Power, Perkins’s president and CEO.
‘For the first time, they will be able to get to school, work, and community activities independently, regardless of distance. There is tremendous enthusiasm about it, both here and nationally, among the blind.’” Everyone is excited about the future these self-driving cars can create. There is clearly a lot of potential in the tech, and heavy hitters in the industry are all working to develop their own self-driving vehicles.
Big Businesses Weigh In
While Apple has confirmed they are working on creating a self-driving vehicle, some have criticized their secretive approach, “’Companies should share de-identified scenario and dynamics data from crashes and near misses,’ Kenner wrote. ‘By sharing data, the industry will build a more comprehensive data set than any one company could create alone.’”
Sadly, profit is king in most industries, and so people will likely scoff at the request for companies to share the key that unlocks the secrets behind their advancements. In my opinion, this type of thinking is incredibly short sighted. If every company acts like Mr. Scrooge hoarding coal, then everyone could be at risk. The people who are refusing to share their data will have to get on the road with cars that could have benefitted from their knowledge. I think with that real and possible danger, perhaps people should be a little less stingy with the information that could keep us all safe as these cars hit the road.
Having the option to own a self-driving car is an exciting thought for me even if you disregard my visual impairment. Which is why I’m glad the creative minds behind these cars are focusing on the wider uses for them beyond those of us with vision issues. As the MIT article points out, if the cars were only targeted for the blind community, they would likely be prohibitively expensive; an issue I brought up when discussing Apple’s new accessibility tech.
In a somewhat hilarious twist (for me) Uber has been using these cars for a while, “So far, Uber’s self-driving cars are available in only one US city — Pittsburgh.” That’s cool, I live there my entire life and then suddenly when I leave they start getting crazy amazing technology.
Personal grudges aside, this really is incredible for a whole lot of people. In fact, the same people who benefit from the accessibility modifications that UserWay provides could all potentially benefit from autonomous vehicle. Anyone with mobility issues, vision problems, and hearing loss can have trouble driving. It can be hard to lose the freedom that driving gives you, but luckily now people might not need to face that problem.
Is It the Future?
Instead of needing to pay a cab, get public transportation, or get rides from friends and family we could all take our own self-driving vehicle wherever we need to go. I know I’d love it if cities started implementing vehicle-shares with self-driving cars.
That way you could reserve a car for a few hours, have it drive you to your destination, and return it after. I would be particularly enthusiastic about having this option to drive me to and from my eye doctor appointments which are miles from the city. The opportunities seem endless, and the freedom this will give to countless people make it a technology worth exploring.