The biggest benefit of driverless cars is that they can be driven by people who don’t have full mobility. A former Indy racing league driver Sam Schmidt has just received the first license restricted to a driverless/autonomous vehicle in the US. The license for the driverless car allows him to drive on Nevada roads in his specially modified car. The car does not require him to control the steering wheel with his hands and pedals with his feet. The paralysed former racing car driver can control the direction the driverless car takes with the motion of his head.
Driverless cars are going to make a big difference especially in the lives of persons with disabilities. Up till now they have had to get their cars heavily modified in order to be able to use them with limited physical mobility. But with driverless cars even paralysed people like Sam Schmidt can drive around without facing much hardship. The car that the former racing car driver uses still uses head movements in order to turn around but we are soon going to have cars that don’t even require head gestures. You will just need to tell them where to go and they will take you to your destination.
Video of the paralysed former racing car driver getting a license to drive a driverless car:
Sam Schmidt was left paralysed 16 years ago in a crash during a test run in January 2000 at the Walt Disney World Speedway in Orlando, Florida. The accident completely destroyed his spinal cord and he was diagnosed as a quadriplegic. Since then he has participated in many activities like running a racing team and manoeuvring a sailboat using his chin but until the driverless car, he hadn’t been able to drive – his favourite activity.
Fully driverless cars are expected to become a norm on the US roads in the coming 5-10 years. Sam Schmidt has made history by receiving the country’s first driver’s license for a driverless car or a semi-autonomous vehicle.
The driverless car, eponymously known as SAM, uses four infrared cameras mounted on the car’s dashboard to follow Sam’s head movements and steer the car accordingly.
The paralysed former racing car driver getting the license to drive the driverless car doesn’t yet mean complete freedom for him. The license is restricted.
Right now Sam Schmidt isn’t allowed to drive alone. His restricted license requires him to have a passenger at all times. The modified driverless car allows the passenger to take complete control of the car when there is a need. Not just an extra passenger, there needs to be a pilot vehicle constantly driving in front of Sam Schmidt’s driverless car so that in case the passenger accompanying Sam cannot take over the control of the car from Sam, the car rams into the pilot vehicle instead of running into another vehicle on the road.
This isn’t an ideal situation but it is a big step forward towards making travel more accessible for persons with disabilities through such driverless cars. This is just the beginning. As the technology improves and as the artificial intelligence controlling these cars becomes more advanced, the sort of restrictions that Sam has right now will not be required.