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A retirement community in Florida has become a hotbed for self-driving cars.
Voyage, a startup working on self-driving taxis, set up a testing program in The Villages, a community near Orlando. Its vehicles aim to drive 750 miles of road, and rides are free of charge to area residents.
Voyage’s fleet of light sensor-equipped Ford Fusions will drive 125,000 senior citizens to and from the grocery store, area pools and tennis courts, and movie theaters, among other destinations. Voyage CEO Oliver Cameron said seniors are very interested in the burgeoning technology.
“They feel like pioneers,” he said, according to CBS News.
This is the startup’s second major self-driving vehicle deployment, and the world’s largest self-driving car experiment to date. Its first launch was in a 4,000-person retirement community in San Jose, California.
It seems that every self-driving car program has a different method for beta-testing vehicles. Google’s self-driving car unit Waymo, for example, has a beta program in and around Phoenix, Arizona. Volvo has done extensive testing in Australia, where kangaroos’ unique style of movement has been problematic for its “Large Animal Detection system” to identify. A number of autonomous vehicles drive the roads in California; Qualcomm and Lyft are among the latest to gain permits for driving in the Golden State.
Senior citizens and senior communities, however, are a less challenging environment for autonomous vehicle fleets to test their chops. These communities are planned in advance, so their homes, commercial areas, and roadways are laid out neatly and logically. There are also fewer risks of children running into the street or large animals darting across the road in these areas. Retirement communities also have a need for driving assistance, as many residents may be visually impaired and unable to drive themselves.
In the testing phase, where vehicles will have a technician onboard to monitor rides and take the wheel if needed, Voyage trips will be free. Later on, when the technician is no longer necessary, the company will charge for transportation.
Autonomous vehicle efforts are working toward mass consumer acceptance. According to one MIT study, 48 percent of consumers reported they “would never purchase a car that completely drives itself” because they want to maintain control, don’t trust the technology, and don’t feel driving cars are safe.
Voyage seems to be doing a good job of winning over the senior citizen community in the latter two regards, at least. And if community visitors end up seeing how well autonomous taxis work in these isolated communities, perhaps overall sentiment will change.
H/T CBS News
Christina Bonnington is a tech reporter who specializes in consumer gadgets, apps, and the trends shaping the technology industry. Her work has also appeared in Gizmodo, Wired, Refinery29, Slate, Bicycling, and Outside Magazine. She is based in the San Francisco Bay Area and has a background in electrical engineering.