My father is in his mid-80s and he still drives. That concerns me. It should concern you, too.
Now I am blessed that both my parents are still alive and able to live fairly independently. While I live close-by, I can’t always drop what I am doing and take them shopping or to the doctor’s office. And my father is stubborn and prideful enough to still want to drive himself, though he did admit recently that when it comes time to renew his license, he won’t; and he probably can’t.
So, the news that Lyft is coming to town, which I just learned this week, is a bit of promising good news, not just for my parents, but also for all the aging ‘Great Generation’ survivors like them, as well as for my generation: the Baby Boomers. Lyft and similar on-demand, pier-to-pier ridesharing programs that include UberX and Sidecar may turn out to be a godsend for both my parents and someday for me, should I be fortunate enough to live that long.
Of course, my parents will have to learn how to use a smart phone or tablet device, or whatever gadget comes along that’s specifically engineered to the needs of an aging population suffering from arthritis, failing eyesight and hearing, along with slowing reflects, as well as a general unfamiliarity with modern Internet technology. Or maybe they can just ‘dial’ a telephone number and order up a rideshare that way.
At the moment, the vehicle that shows up at their door will be driven by another human being, one that I pray has been suitably vetted by the rideshare service operator. I certainly don’t want some alcoholic or predator-type taking them both figuratively, as well as literally, for a ride.
However, based on what’s happening with the development of self-driving vehicles, I can imagine a day, perhaps when I am my parent’s age, when the vehicle I order up will be driverless. We hear a lot about Google and Mercedes and Nissan’s autonomous car research. We learned recently that Tesla is working with an Israeli company called Mobileye on its own ‘auto pilot’ system.
In Japan, which has the fastest aging population in the developing world, Hitachi recently demonstrated the Ropits, pictured above. Is it a single seat, self-driving electric vehicle intended precisely to address the problem of senior mobility. It doesn’t drive on the street and its top speed is that of a brisk walk, but by pointing to your destination on a tablet, the little self-driving ‘car’ will take you there, at least in theory. Using a combination of GPS, cameras and laser range-finders, Ropit sees and avoids obstacles, including pedestrians. It’s designed to operate in tight spaces and turns on a yen.
Hitachi isn’t the only organization experimenting in this area, of course, but they appear to be the first to think in the context of providing Japan’s seniors with a mobility option that frees them from dependency on others, while giving them the ability to run the irregular kinds of errands an older person typical makes as they age: trips to the doctor, the pharmacy, the grocery store.
Of course, telemedicine can help with the periodic doctor’s visits. Walgreen drones can handle the medication deliveries. And Amazon can take care of the shopping. But as social animals, all of us need to get out of our homes, and increasingly, isolation is becoming an issue for seniors who have chosen, either out of economic necessity and/or a desire to remain independent, to age in their suburban homes, which were designed around access to an automobile, access they may no longer have.
Paul Supawanich has written an excellent article entitled, “Why Ridesharing is a Way Bigger Deal for Suburban Seniors Than Urban Millennials.” Of course, he’s thinking in terms of the Boomer generation noting that current community-operated para-transit services lack “the responsiveness, flexibility, and independence desired by a retiring Baby Boomer generation.” My ‘Great Generation’ parents have need of that system now, which is why I am disappointed to hear that Lyft is running into political opposition trying to launch in my community. Presumably the local taxi cab operators see it as competition, which I suppose it is.
They are going to be much more upset when a future Lyft or Sidecar announces it plans to offer on-demand, autonomous, mobility services for the ‘Beatles’ generation that was once isolated out in suburbia, but now have the ability to retain a measure of their independence and dignity.