As you may have learned from my Tweets, today I had a Lyft ride in one of the two cars in Boston with a camera perched on the roof to map out the city for autonomous driving. My driver and I had a conversation about how Lyft is the best company for the autonomous car efforts because the company uses an open source platform, allowing other companies to use their ride data to help develop their own self-driving systems. Lyft calls this “the most efficient way to bring your autonomous technology to market.”
When I first learned about Lyft’s open source initiative I was excited because this meant that companies developing autonomous vehicles would be able to do so much more collaboratively and efficiently, as these companies have the benefit of building off a foundationand enhancingthe work that has already been done.
As a twenty-year-old near the peak of my life’s independence, the idea of self driving cars is very comforting. As I have watched my grandmother’s amazement with Uber and her frustration with getting places from an assisted living home, I have begun to appreciate my independence exponentially more. With autonomous cars as a reality, getting around will be one more piece of independence I won’t need to worry about losing as I age.
This got me thinking about all the ways technology has changed the game for the elderly population, and the ways that it will continue to do so as it becomes more advanced. For example, something as simple as a Keurig has changed my grandmother’s life in a small but tangible way for her. As she’s lost some dexterity in her hands, her Keurig has made her morning routine much easier, nearly hassle-free. I personally have the capability to make coffee pretty easily, so I think of Keurig machines as a way to bring a marginal bit of convenience to my life. But for my grandmother, it’s returning a capability and a bit of independence that makes a clear difference in her days. An article in The Economists claims, “the greatest potential for improving the lives of the elderly lies in technology built for the young.”
Applications of technology for the elderly population can make a more profound difference in their lives—literally. My friends and I use the Find My Friends app on our phones to make sure we get home safely, but that same technology has been simplified and applied to Medic Alert necklaces, which has saved thousands of lives. An even more advanced version of this has been discussed for inserting microchips in patients suffering from Alzheimers disease in case they “wander off.” These chips could also collect medical information in case a patient ends up in the hospital, so that doctors can have more context for what has been going on in their day(s) prior to arrival.
As data analytics becomes more advanced, I would not be surprised if these microchips become commonplace for elderly people. It seems there are many existing technology platforms that have many of the components needed to make this a reality. For example, GE Digital’s main project is called Predix. This system collects data on industrial machinery to predict when something is going to breakdown. This way, the machinery can be serviced in advance rather than the machine breaking down while in use (see the word play? Predix…Predicts?). This is a much cheaper and more convenient way to manage equipment, an approach to maintenance that is also used making its way into the aviation industry. Once this technology is perfected, if it were used for humans, it could greatly reduce the cost of healthcare and the number of surgeries and recoveries needed.
It will be interesting to watch how these technological applications for elderly use will expand and adapt to more tech-savvy generations, as millennials age and enter “senior citizenship”. The elderly population right now grew up before computers or cell phones, so even if technology is available that could potentially be helpful, it isn’t usually user-friendly or intuitive enough for most of them to quickly adapt to. My grandmother could greatly benefit from using Lyft, but she can barely use a flip phone, let alone a smartphone. Her generation might benefit from using the Amazon Alexa to look up information if they don’t know how to use a computer – but even that has its own set of challenges (see this incredible skit from SNL for more on that). Eventually, as the elderly population becomes more adept at using technology, harnessing features of Alexa such as turning on and off lights and other smart-home abilities will become more universal.
For now, I am cheering on Lyft so that they can have autonomous vehicles ready for me when I can no longer drive. I can’t wait to hail that autonomous car from my nursing home!… well maybe I actually can wait.