Transportation tech could make all the difference for those with disabilities

Monday, January 30, 2017

We've been complaining "It's 20_ _ (fill in the blank with the current year) where's my jet pack?" for at least 17 years, and the unfulfilled dream of a practical flying car has been around almost as long as airplanes themselves.

A nexus of technological advances promises to make the dream a reality -- for those who can afford the luxury, at least.

Both backpack-style strap-on flying machines and car-like multi-rotor vehicles owe much to hobbyists who created pint-sized jet engines and multi-rotor drones that are being scaled up and adapted to human flight.

Successful flights have only been possible because of miniaturized computers that actually control the machines, responding to conditions much faster than a human brain is able. The same controls lend controllability to more "conventional" flying car designs involving folding wings.

The latest effort to bring flying cars to market are backed by heavy-hitters such as Airbus, Chinese drone makers, and European and Middle Eastern companies.

The computerized controls, in fact, are so effective that human input is becoming optional, in the air and on the ground.

Commercial ride-sharing service Uber has announced plans for using autonomous cars, UPS, Fedex and Amazon are exploring automated delivery, on the ground and in the air and small fleets of autonomous Google cars are already in operation.

Self-driving cars may be way off for most of us, but buy a new car and it may come with technology to gently nudge you back into the correct lane and apply the brakes if it detects an imminent collision.

Having a computer help drive your car could seem like a luxury for able-bodied drivers, but access to an autonomous vehicle could be a life-changer for someone with disabilities.

As reported by Mary Kuhlman of the Public News Service of Nebraska, a study by the Ruderman Family Foundation indicated self-driving cars could make a difference for 6 million people with disabilities who have difficulty finding transportation.

"What we're trying to say to these companies is, like, 'Hey, the technology is there, and you're going to continue to refine it and develop it and make it better. As you do that, consider people with disabilities - because they can really not only benefit, but society can benefit,'" Said Jay Ruderman, president of the foundation.

"They are the largest, untapped resource that we have in our country," he said.

Especially in rural areas, where public transportation is limited, access to self-driving cars could improve employment opportunities for the 70 percent of people with disabilities who are unemployed.

It could also save on health care costs, since more than 11 million medical appointments are missed every year because of a lack of adequate transportation. That amounts to about $19 billion in wasted health care costs.

While futuristic high-tech transportation may be reserved for the wealthy at first, people with disabilities should benefit in the long run.

Read the original report here: http://bit.ly/2kjmGh4

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