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Autonomous cars can increase older people’s independence

Photo Credit: University of Canberra

The University of Canberra, the Australian Capital Territory (ACT) Government and a Canberra-based advanced computer vision technology company have joined forces to help older Canberrans maintain their independence and health, with the help of semi-automated cars.

According to a recent press release, the collaboration builds on the success of CANdrive’s autonomous vehicle trial on driver behaviour.

However, it specifically looks at how semi-autonomous vehicles have the potential to increase mobility for many people who could otherwise be unable to drive.

About the trial

Trials with 23 volunteer drivers in their 70s and older have just been completed.

The aim of the trials was to see how older drivers learn how to use the semi-autonomous vehicle and to describe their experiences when doing so.

For the study, the participants navigated the track at the Sutton Road Driver Training Centre in a partially autonomous Tesla S.

Participants were ready to take control of the car at all times but were able to activate the autopilot function, meaning the car was able to steer itself and maintain speed on some sections of the track.

The driving sessions at the centre include instruction sessions on how to use the vehicles. Participants were monitored by in-car cameras and interviewed after their driving sessions.

Benefits of autonomous vehicles

Autonomous vehicles could increase mobility for older people and help keep them connected with their family and community.

When older people stop driving, they might not be able to connect socially as they did before, which could lead to a host of health problems.

Participants have welcomed the study with open arms, and nearly all have said they would like to try out the technology on the open road.

ACT Minister for Advanced Technology and Space Industries Mick Gentleman MLA shared that as technology continues to advance, the ACT Government wants to better understand what driverless cars will mean for Canberra.

The ACT Government has provided AU$ 75,000 grant for the trial, which will help determine the effectiveness of these semi-automated cars.

One of the study participants, who got to make her way around the driving track, had no problem getting behind the wheel of the automated vehicle.

She has been driving for 52 years. She explained that automated cars would keep her independent, and in touch with her social connections.

These cars would be good as people’s reaction times slow down fractionally with age. Even a fraction of a second can be very important with road conditions these days.

The trial would help the company determine a range of factors that affect road safety. It will capture the attentional strategies of drivers of all age to inform the technology solutions.

Results of the research study will be published in November.

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