Senior Citizens regain Mobility with Autonomous Vehicles

Senior citizens will regain their mobility with autonomous vehicles if we plan accordingly and rethink how we design continuing-care retirement communities.

As of 2014, senior citizens counted for one in every seven Americans which is 14.5% of the U.S. population. By 2040 this number is projected to grow to 21.7% of the U.S. population. The U.S. is getting older and we have to prepare for the aging of society by openly discussing land use issues and embracing autonomous forms of transportation.

Due to the natural aging process, senior citizens lose valuable skills such as the ability to drive. This has a negative impact on their quality of life and their overall emotional state of mind. Once they lose the ability to drive they lose their freedom. They can no longer drive to the grocery store, visit a museum or loved ones. They are now dependent on a caregiver for once simple tasks such as mobility and this can be an emotionally difficult pill to swallow.

Sheryl Connelly, Global Consumer Trends and Futuring Manager at Ford views autonomous vehicles “as a way to strategically address an aging population”. Ms. Connelly is both correct and bold in her assessment.

Technology will solve the mobility issue with an aging population through the introduction and the adoption of level 4 autonomous vehicles. When level 4 autonomous vehicles are available on our roads and summoned by a tap on a phone, senior citizens will regain their freedom. Seniors will have the ability to explore life and become independent therefore increasing their overall quality of life.

To get here we need to rethink society and start planning for a future with autonomous vehicles now. With the current high demand for continuing-care retirement communities located in the heart of cities, developers are betting on the present, but they are missing the future.

Developers are creating wonderful condo-like services without a clinical feel however, they are not taking into account the future — autonomous forms of transportation.

Developers construct buildings to last decades, not years. In less than 10 years fully autonomous forms of transportation will become commonplace in society and upon the roads. But what happens to the senior citizen who has lost their mobility and lives in a recently constructed continuing-care retirement community where the developer did not incorporate autonomous forms of transportation into the development?

These seniors would lose out on their ability to fully regain their freedom through the advancements in autonomous forms of transportation as their building would not be equipped to handle autonomous vehicles. “For the first time in history, older people are going to be the lifestyle leaders of a new technology” says Joseph Coughlin, Director of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology’s AgeLab.

Mr. Coughlin is correct and developers of continuing-care retirement communities will have to plan accordingly for a future with autonomous forms of transportation. When designing these communities developers should take into account the vehicle’s impact on the material design and overall functionality of the buildings.

If it is snowing or very hot outside how does the senior enter the vehicle without facing the elements? Were the proper autonomous pick up and drop off zones with conductive charging created prior to building the structure?

If there are no pick up and drop off zones with conductive charging, developers of continuing-care retirement communities will have to plan for the future now by retrofitting their buildings over the next ten years. If developers do not plan for the future, how will autonomous forms of transportation give seniors their mobility once again? We must plan for the future of autonomous forms of transportation today, not in ten years.

When planning for the future of autonomous transportation we should take into account fear of the unknown. The unknown fear of autonomous vehicles for seniors is real as only 35% of drivers age 50+ would be willing to use a driverless car if they could no longer drive safely. 42% are unsure and only 24% would not be willing to use an autonomous vehicle according to a recent survey from The Hartford and MIT AgeLab.

This fear exists because of the unknown. Most senior citizens have never experienced a ride in an autonomous vehicle and / or spoken with an expert in the field to alleviate their fears.

In order to overcome these fears, autonomous vehicle manufacturers and service providers should host autonomous vehicle demo days in cities around the world with high senior populations to slowly introduce the technology and answer their questions.

Through outreach and education, senior citizens will start to overcome their fear of autonomous vehicles and openly embrace the vehicles as a new form of mobility. Seniors will once again have “the ability to decide for themselves where they want to move, when they want to move” says Gill Pratt, CEO of Toyota Research Institute.

Through proper planning by developers and the adoption of autonomous vehicles, senior citizens will once again enjoy their freedom of mobility when they can no longer drive. Now seeing their loved ones or going to the grocery store is just a tap away. Mobility will once again be attainable for millions of senior citizens around the world.

Senior Citizens regain Mobility with Autonomous Vehicles is an article written by Brulte & Company Co-Founder Grayson Brulte.

Image courtesy of Google

Sign up for IDEAS — Our weekly insight into innovation.