Self driving cars a boon for those with disabilities


People are studying what Robocars will mean for the disabled. I think they will be a tremendous boon, with more and easier access, much better service, and lower prices. I outline how in my new article on the Forbes site:

Self driving cars a boon for those with disabilities


An area where it definitely makes sense to own a robocar customized for your needs rather than to hire out a robotaxi.

At least in a free market. Mandates for robotaxi companies to subsidize robotaxi rides for people with disabilities might instead make for a situation similar to the current one.

Hopefully instead the subsidies (and insurance benefits and lawsuit settlement funds) will come in the form of assistance adapting a robocar to fit the needs of the disabled individual. This is already done with regular cars, for people who have disabilities where they can drive if their car has special adaptations. I assume it'll be extended for privately-owned robocars, and the self-driving part will mean a whole lot more types of disabilities can be accommodated.

The problem is that people with disabilities have low earning power, and as such can barely afford cars, let alone customized ones. It is more efficient to have vehicles designed for the different disabilities which can move from user to user. That way they can afford it (even without subsidy) or subsidy can be given.

If somebody has a rare disability that needs a truly custom design not good for anybody else, that's when it's worth having your own.

But a design like the Kenguru, a hollow box with a back that lifts up that almost any wheelchair can roll into is going to support a lot of people. It has some clamps to lock your chair down. I think you need to install a belt in the chair but maybe it has a way to belt you while in your chair. For the vision impaired, the vehicle can be standard, it just needs some tools to make it easy for them to find it, authenticate and get in. (Most vision impaired are not totally blind, they see shapes and more.) They mostly just need a UI they can use. The hearing impaired need all-visual UIs Some people just need automated doors and maybe some sort of automated seatbelt/restraint system.

However, many societies have decided that they wish to subsidize those who have been dealt a physical disadvantage, to bring them up to the same mobility level as everybody else, and it's going to be fairly cheap to do it with robocars.

People with disabilities have low earning power? Wow, I think a lot of people I know with disabilities would be extremely offended by that. Self-driving cars will be a boon for people with disabilities who have just as much earning power as anyone else so long as they are given needed accomodations - people who can live independently but need help with mobility. For those with severe disabilities where they don't have much earning power even with accomodations, I'm not sure self-driving cars are going to help much at all.

And earning power or government subsidies aren't the only ways to pay for the special needs of people with disabilities. Many have coverage for adaptive equipment though insurance (health, car, workers comp, disability), or have received a payout from a lawsuit related to their injury, or through an AD&D policy. Maybe they're getting veterans benefits to pay for adaptive equipment. Maybe they have friends or family helping them, or maybe they have a trust fund.

Sure, some people with disabilities are poor. Maybe they'll have to resort to crappy public transportation, just like many poor people without disabilities do.

A Kenguru is nice. It apparently costs $25,000. At that price, why not own it?

I didn't say ALL people with disabilities have lower earning power. But nobody would deny as a group that it's true. Sometimes it's because they can't do certain jobs easily. Sometimes it's discrimination or lack of accessibility in the workplace. But it's reality, and it's why products for the disabled aren't giant sellers even though a surprising fraction of the population has some sort of disability.

But yes, if you are a low income wheelchair person, who can't afford a car and finds using the bus a pain, being able to ride in a Kenguru type vehicle (which you can't because the product never took off) for 40 cents/mile is going to be a great enabler.

I don't think it's true, at least not among people who would benefit from this.

I don't think someone who can't afford a car can afford 40 cents a mile.

And I don't think the unsubsidized cost would be that low.

Car ownership costs about $7-8K per year plus parking according to most estimates. A bit less if you car is old. So no, you can't afford 12,000 miles of driving at 40 cents/mile if you can't afford that, but you can readily afford a few thousand miles of driving, and move some segment of the rest to shared rides of various sorts. Not just traditional transit.

And of course there is already a huge subsidy for paratransit, in fact in many cities paratransit costs are a major fraction of total transit costs. So even if you don't think the ride will be 40 cents/mile it will probably be made available for less to the disabled.

I personally have never spent anywhere near $7-8K in a year on car ownership.

You can get a used car for well under $7,000 that will last you several years. And can be shared with multiple people, especially if you only need it on occasion (not for your daily commute).

Maybe robotaxi rides for the disabled will be subsidized by the government, but we'd be better off spending government subsidy money on adapting individually-owned vehicles for the disabled.

Yes, that's just an average number. Some people spend less, some more. And of course to be fair, the poor will be on the lower side. Still cheaper to be on the lower side of hiring a robotic taxi.

Adapting the individually owned vehicles only works for those who have parking spaces available to them. And it's not nearly as efficient to adapt 1000 vehicles when you can adapt 200 and have them wander around to those who need them.

Robotic taxis will not be cheap, especially not ones customized for the disabled.

Having vehicles wander around to those who want them is not cheap, nor is it convenient.

Parking, in most places, is cheap. Yes there are places where this is not the case. And lots of people are wising up and leaving these sorts of places. Robocars will contribute greatly to this exodus, I think. Not as big of a deal living in the sticks when you can sleep or work while you travel. Not a big deal if the nearest grocery store is 10 miles away if robot delivery is cheap.

Parking is fairly cheap but not a dedicated space, which in many place is $200 to $500 a month. It's cheaper for robots which don't need a dedicated space. Parking on the street is of course subsidized.

I believe the robocar package will make a car eventually cheaper, not more expensive. While the sensor pack will cost about $2K, maybe less in quality, all the things you take out of a car cost more than that today.

The Kenguru is "customized for the disabled" but what that means is it doesn't have seats or doors on the sides, saving quite a bit. The one expensive add on is a motorized liftgate, which many cars today have, and the main add-on, a hinge-out ramp under the liftgate with a motor to lower and raise it. With just a hollow shell (except for clamps to restraint the chair) and no wheel or other controls, no dashboard etc. it would be quite cheap in quantity, and even cheaper shared among many users and recharging itself.

These are all good reasons why owning your own robocar will be affordable.

At 56, and suffering from a diminished capacity to drive due to periodic loss of balance in my inner ear, and also loss of hearing, I look forward to self driving technology. Driving has become more a chore than the pleasant experience it use to be. As a US Army veteran, I can imagine other vets also suffering from hearing loss, TBI, and PTSD who would benefit greatly for this technology. IMHO this tech needs the dedication of government and business to move it into reality and everyday living as quickly as possible. Self driving automobiles will be a game changing life experience for so many.

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