Autonomous cars promise to revolutionise the way we get from place to place. No group was poised to benefit more from this new technology than the 36 million blind or 217 million visually impaired people. Autonomous vehicles have the capacity to change the lives of people who previously would not have been able to travel in a car by themselves.
However, they have increasingly been left behind in the design of new vehicles and systems, despite initially being positioned as a core user group in videos like this:
Why Blind People Must Be Included In The Design Of Autonomous Vehicles
Since that video was published, blind and visually impaired people have been increasingly pushed to the side, or ignored entirely in the design phase of autonomous cars. Last year, the National Federation of the Blind in the US warned that it would be “exploitation” if autonomous systems were not made accessible for blind people. Nissan and Toyota claim they are committed to accessibility, but currently haven’t confirmed they’re involving blind people in their autonomous vehicle design or testing.
If the cars are designed without blind or visually impaired people in mind, or without direct input from them, the cars won’t be able to address their needs.
Why Autonomous Vehicles Are So Important To The Blind
Losing the ability to drive can increase isolation for blind people, and that loss of independence can be difficult to deal with. If utilised correctly, this technology could help give people back control over how they get from place to place, without relying on someone else.
New software is being developed parallel to autonomous vehicle technology, that will allow people to speak and interact with a system that will act as a ‘guide’ that could be placed in autonomous cars or on phones. This technology can interact with the AI in the car and tell it where to go, and can also tell the user about potential obstacles they might face outside the vehicle. Audio technology and haptic feedback are the cornerstones of this technology, allowing for visually impaired users to interact and utilise it to a high degree of functionality, giving them control over how they move through the world.
Known as ‘Atlas’, this technology has the potential to make navigating the world much easier for blind people, both in and out of their cars.
How Laws Will Need to Change
Currently, all ‘drivers’ at the wheel of an autonomous vehicle will still need to hold a valid driver’s license, despite the fact that in theory no driving will actually take place. Visually impaired people cannot hold a driver’s licence, so under current laws would not able to utilise this new technology.
Laws, infrastructure, and our perceptions of ability will need an overhaul when fully autonomous cars become a reality on our roads.
It’s undeniable that autonomous vehicles will be a big part of the future, but care must be taken to ensure that everyone can utilise this new technology to the same degree.