Smart Cars: Move Over George Jetson!

In Assistive Technology Articles, Blog, Featured, News by Lisa Horton

When I was a child, one of my favorite television shows was The Jetsons. The Jetsons lived in a futuristic world called Orbit City. George and Jane Jetson lived in a Skypad Apartment, full of push-button convenient labor-saving devices, robotic contraptions, and inventions that made life easier.

Fast forward to 2017. Smart cars (or, self-driving cars) are trending in the news almost on a daily basis. They’re outfitted with a GPS unit, lots of strategically placed sensors, cameras, on-board processors, lasers, mapping devices, and lots of other computer and machine controlled gizmos and mechanisms. The rapid advances of artificial intelligence within the past few years have enabled prototypes of smart cars to travel farther and operate under most road and weather conditions.

Intrigued by this modern day invention, and using Jetson-like characteristics, I thought I would find out more about these cars to see how they would make life easier for the general public, and especially for people with disabilities.

futuristic flying car with family in it.

Increasing Independence for People with Disabilities

Accessing transportation is a major obstacle for people with disabilities. Often, people with disabilities must rely on others or public transportation to get to work, appointments, or social gatherings. Lack of public transportation for people living in rural areas is a major barrier. In populated areas, construction, sidewalks disrepair, lack of curb cuts, and other accessibility challenges make getting around difficult. With smart cars, people with disabilities could increase their independence – making it easier or even possible to:

  • Get to work
  • Arrive at appointments on time
  • Go shopping independently
  • Get to a destination without reading a map or worrying about getting lost
  • Travel in most adverse weather conditions

Gone will be concerns about living on a bus route, paratransit being on time, or having enough cash on hand to pay the taxi driver. People with disabilities would also be able to enjoy more social activities that are currently too remote or inaccessible by public transport.

Programming Cars to Help with Specific Disabilities

Smart cars can be programmed to describe a field of vision for people with low vision, and to send warnings about tight turns or obstacles through vibrations and other triggers. Given the rapid advances of artificial intelligence, who knows what else is possible to make cars accessible for people with disabilities?

Smart Cars Could be Good for Everyone

Smart cars could be good for everyone by helping:

  • Reduce accidents caused by human error – 40% of accidents are linked to drug/alcohol abuse
  • Avoiding obstacles – smart cars can stop or steer around objects
  • Lower fuel consumption – the consistent speed of smart cars gives better fuel economy
  • Get to where we want to go – a smart car could drop us off and pick us up at the entrance to the mall . . . our personal valet service!

As steady improvements are being made to these test cars to make them usable for the general public, we can expect to see them on our streets in just a few years. Whether you agree or disagree that self-driving cars should be the way of the future for everyone, it sure gives us something to dream about in our daily lives! Move over George Jetson, I’m coming through! (Pre-programmed in, of course!)

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