Florence Swanson has witnessed practically the entire history of the modern car, and now, at 94, she was offered a ride in Google’s self-driving vehicle.
She is officially the oldest person yet to ride in Google’s car of the future, and according to her statement, “you haven’t lived until you get in one of those cars.”
After taking a half-hour trip in the futuristic car, the Austin, Texas, resident said that not only did she feel “completely safe” in it, but she was also impressed by how easily she could communicate with the car.
Google’s bet is that others will eventually share her sentiment. The tech company hopes to offer older people a new means of transportation, and considering the 43 million people in the U.S. who are now 65 and older, the target market is indeed promising.
Moreover, statistics say that 10,000 more hit that age mark every day, so Google’s strategy seems logical. Aging Americans have various mobility needs – getting to the grocery store or the doctor, visiting family and friends – and not all can rely on public transportation.
Roughly 80 percent of seniors live in suburbs and rural areas, which makes them perfect for becoming “lifestyle leaders of a new technology,” according to Joseph Coughlin, head of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology’s AgeLab in Cambridge.
Coughlin said that while young people initiated the smartphone trend, older people – the 50-plus consumers, as he calls them – are expected to be first with self-driving cars.
John Krafcik, chief executive officer of Google’s Self-Driving Car Project, talked at a January presentation in Detroit about the potential of fully self-driving cars on the millions of older around the world who have given up their driver’s license because of their age.
Not only Google but also Ford thinks that autonomy would be “a way to strategically address an aging population,” according to Sheryl Connelly, the Dearborn’s in-house futurist.
In order to put themselves in the position of an elderly passenger, engineers and designers were equipped with what they called a “third age suit,” which meant they wore glasses that impaired vision and gloves that reduced their finger strength and control.
Japanese Toyota is also greatly invested in bringing self-driving cars to market, partly because elderly drivers are causing and are injured in traffic accidents.
Toyota has allocated $1 billion to robotics technology and artificial intelligence so it could reduce traffic fatalities and eliminate driver errors.
Image Source: Google