Autonomous Features Beyond Cars
While self driving cars may not necessarily be in full use for many years there are still a number of other applications for this technology that can benefit peoples’ lives in the near future. Cars and public transformation may be the ultimate goal for autonomous transportation, however, full integration will be slow due to hurtles with legislature and infrastructure coupled with getting people to trust that the technology is safer than they are. While these problems are being solved, the need for autonomous transportation remains. One of the major advantages of autonomous vehicles will be that they give mobility to people that are disabled or otherwise unable to drive, drastically improving their quality of life. For this reason, companies are beginning to apply the technology to smaller problems that can still have some of the benefits of autonomous vehicles.
Companies like Cyberworks are attempting to cater to this portion of the population by applying autonomous driving technology and research to wheelchairs. While it may not be as life changing as a full autonomous vehicle, many people struggle to operate the current power wheel chairs. This technology hopes to make it easier for people with disabilities to navigate within their home and around cities. Currently there are 6 million people who require a power wheelchair in the US and that number is expected to increase as life expectancy gets longer and longer. Therefore, this technology could improve a large number of lives. When they go on sale, these wheelchairs are expected to cost only $1000, compared to the $1500 to $30,000 price tag of current power wheelchairs, making them more accessible to those who need them.
Until autonomous vehicles are fully integrated into our cities transportation networks, I expect to see the technology solve similar but less risky problems. Construction companies like CAT are experimenting integrating autonomous vehicles into job sites and cities are using autonomous vehicles to protect road workers. These smaller applications of the technology are a great way to get the public used to autonomous features while not forcing them into too much change. Such a revolutionary technology is hard to get people to adopt outright, however, by slowly introducing the population to these features slowly as the technology is improved, companies could start to alleviate some of the trust issues that could block full adoption of autonomous vehicles.
As such a young technology, people may not trust autonomous technology enough to get into a car that goes 60 miles per hour but if they could first get used to the technology and see its capabilities in a wheelchair or at a job site, they may be more likely to accept cars with the technology in the future.