Will Self-Driving Cars Be a Blessing to Aging in Place?

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Imagine an elderly person going out to the driveway and, with the touch of a button, the car door opens, a seat ergonomically designed to accommodate the aged person swings out and when the person is securely seated, retracts smoothly and safely into the car. The person is gently and automatically buckled into a safety harness and zoom! Away he or she goes to the grocery store, a dental appointment or to pick up a prescription. The person is safely conveyed without having to touch a steering wheel. The self-driving car, preprogrammed to the destination from the senior’s smartphone, transports him or her securely without the person having to lift a finger or use age-compromised eyesight, hearing or reflexes to respond to traffic patterns, pedestrians, or obstructions.

Impossible? Far from it. It’s already in development. In fact, Sheryl Connelly, a futurist at Ford Motor Company, is urging the design staff to be aware of the “silver tsunami” of people who are going to want smart cars to allow them to age in place as long as possible. Ford is looking to develop the technologies that will help achieve just that. It already features cars designed so elderly people do not have to lift their legs high to get into the seat and vehicles that self-park in parallel parking spaces. Ford also has rearview cameras and sensors that stop the car when an object (or child) is too close or unseen.

Working on features that place more and more burden on the car and its computer system than on the driver is just one of the ways by which automakers are preparing for the burgeoning senior population. Wired cars are also a rich mine of information on individuals, which Ford, among others, wants to use to help people monitor their health conditions.

This kind of potential sends alarm signals for some persons, however. If a car can monitor someone’s heart rate or insulin levels, what else can it monitor and what will it do with the information? In “smart cars” where is the data stored? For how long? And how is it used? What guarantees persons’ privacy concerning the data their wired world is continually collecting about them—even in their own cars?

In “smart cars” where does the data get stored? For how long? And how it is used? What guarantees persons’ privacy concerning the data their wired world is continually collecting on them?

A report by the staff of U.S. Senator Edward J. Markey (D-Mass.), titled Tracking & Hacking: Security & Privacy Gaps Put American Drivers at Risk acknowledges that new technologies in cars bring the promise of greater safety for drivers. However, it warns, hackers are a distinct threat since many systems are interconnected and may be violated. Indeed, tests have shown that hackers can access a car’s computer system and cause cars to lose brake power, speed up beyond control, activate windshield wipers, blow the horn, switch the headlights on and off, and alter crucial dashboard readings, such as gas levels and speed. Currently, many vehicles contain more than 50 distinct electronic control units (ECUs), all connected through a network. These networks not only control vehicle safety and functionality; they are treasures of information on things that are private, such as destinations, the time spent in a certain place and communications logs.

Hackers can access a car’s computer system and cause cars to lose brake power, speed up beyond control, activate windshield wipers, blow the horn, switch the headlights on and off, and alter crucial dashboard readings, such as gas levels and speed.

The Tracking & Hacking report notes that the incessant data collection from the computers in cars, purportedly to afford drivers a better experience in design in the future models of the cars, are actually collecting personal information that may be used for commercial or sinister purposes unless safeguards are installed by the automobile companies to protect the privacy of persons.

The U.S. Department of Transportation’s National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) touts the life-saving, self-driving features that are being incorporated into today’s cars: namely, electronic stability control of the vehicle, lane departure warning to prevent drift, and forward collision warning when there is trouble ahead. Additional airbags coming from the sides and protective cushions for side windows are also new safety features that deploy automatically.

All these developments bode well for increasingly safe, self-driven cars that can supplant the judgment, control and alertness that the aging human brain does not do as well as it once did. Once the cyber security of computer-driven safety measures is enhanced against hacking of performance and information, seniors need have no fear of self-driving cars, the experts say. In fact, they may be the wave of the future and one of the important keys to successfully aging in place.

Henry Ford, move over. The automobile is being revolutionized once again – and one of the leaders is your old company!

 

 

Sources

Buss, Dale. Why Ford’s Sheryl Connelly Has Nearly Everyone’s Dream Job. Forbes, April 16, 2012. Available online at http://www.forbes.com/sites/dalebuss/2012/04/16/why-fords-sheryl-connelly-has-nearly-everyones-dream-job/.

Campbell, Sue. Boomers Will Fuel Self-driving cars. Marketwatch, October 15, 2015. Available online at http://www.marketwatch.com/story/boomers-will-fuel-self-driving-cars-2015-10-15.

Tracking & Hacking: Security & Privacy Gaps Put American Drivers at Risk. The staff of Ed Markey, U.S. Senator for Massachusetts. February 2015. Available online at:

http://www.markey.senate.gov/imo/media/doc/2015-02-06_MarkeyReport-Tracking_Hacking_CarSecurity%202.pdf.

U.S. Department of Transportation, National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA). Available online at http://www.safercar.gov/staticfiles/safetytech/st_landing_ca.htm.

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