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Retired People Could Be Ideal Customers for Self-Driving Cars (economist.com)
69 points by jkuria 25 days ago | hide | past | web | favorite | 70 comments

This seems like really obvious -- in a good way -- market targeting.

For the very old, that ship has already sailed. Thinking of my surviving grandmother, her take on losing access to the car is "it's a bummer but I didn't have one until I was twenty five anyway."

And many younger people would prefer not to need a car at all by virtue of living in a human-scale environment.

But for my parents (baby boomer) generation, what I hear from them is "I don't know what I'm going to do when I can't drive anymore, that's just terrifying." They love their cars, and feel crippled when they can't drive anymore, as they lose access to the suburban lifestyle they've spent their whole life pursuing.

Thus, going after the "active retirement" people who have money and want their "freedom" back is probably the best possible place for a self-driving car business to start.

(edited for clarity)

You must live in a big city huh? I know zero young people who would give up the convenience of a car, and I suspect this is the case for a majority of the country.

People on HN tend to have this huge misconception that the entire world is one dense urban core.

Many more people live in suburbs than in cities. The suburban population is actually growing faster than the urban population [1]. For this plurality of people, cars aren't only convenient but irreplaceable.

[1] http://www.pewsocialtrends.org/2018/05/22/demographic-and-ec...

> the entire world is one dense urban core

Suburbs as a place where you can only survive with a car are mostly an American phenomenon. Most other countries mix low density commercial and residential areas a lot more, making a car-less lifestyle much easier.


None of that is sarcasm, though. Young people DO love cities. They ARE full of divesity and energy, and they’re typically job centers (how are single-family homes and strip malls going to provide startup jobs?). And yes, if you live in a city and don’t have to drive much or don’t have to drive as far, mathematically you’re using less fossil fuels. Suburban sprawl is an objective contributor to greenhouse gas emissions because you have to drive everywhere.

So I’m not entirely sure how exactly you intended to be sarcastic.

> Young people DO love cities.

I don’t and I’m <30.

> They ARE full of divesity and energy

So is the town I live in.

> how are single-family homes and strip malls going to provide startup jobs?

Have you visited Boulder? They make it work.

> if you live in a city and don’t have to drive much or don’t have to drive as far, mathematically you’re using less fossil fuels.


> Suburban sprawl is an objective contributor to greenhouse gas emissions because you have to drive everywhere.

But I don’t care enough to change my lifestyle until everyone else does first.

You’re kind of proving my point. The point of my previous post is that the HN echo chamber believes that everyone agrees on these subjects. Tons of people do not agree. You won’t gain any favor by painting large landscapes with sweeping generalizations of what people think.

>HN echo chamber

Where the dissonant note is downvoted and flagged to death.

I said many, not all. There’s plenty of research to back up this shift in preferences. Just one example (https://www.nielsen.com/us/en/insights/news/2014/millennials...)

Sorry this upset you.

I totally agree. A self driving car, even with limited range-of-use, would make a huge difference for an 83-year-old whose children live across the city.

I can’t understand why people feel the need to point out that self-driving cars won’t be able to handle Siberia as proof that they won’t be worth anything.

They won't be worth anything...in Siberia. Also in places where they're technically feasible but unaffordable, leading to "no-autonomous zones", de-facto and perhaps also de-iure.

The future is already here, and it's getting further and further unevenly distributed.

Sadly not the retired people of today. This is a little pessimistic, but fully self-driving cars where they basically guarantee that you won't have to touch the wheel, or are level 5 autonomous, will likely take another 30+ years to mature. Hopefully we'll see this in the lifetime of boomers, and we'll get to hear tales about how everyone used to text and drive, while now everyone just texts while the car drives itself.

There are intermediate steps. Lots of retired people live in specific communities which could control the layout of their streets and make them very compatible with self driving cars. Just community <-> medical center would be huge. Nearest grocer, bus terminal and that would cover a lot.

Maybe. I don't believe all retired people would require a full level 5. They don't have the daily commute.

They're in a fairly unique position that, if it's raining or snowing, whatever they needed the car for, they'd probably wait anyway. They're also able to schedule transport form say, 10 AM to 4 PM and only in optimal conditions.

I can envision a system where you hop in the car and hit the button, and the car checks weather and traffic and then responds, sorry, no can't do that now. That really wouldn't meet my needs, but it would meet my grandma's needs.

Heck there are parts of Arizona where the laws could be changed, controlling speed and access that would make level 3 good enough. Mostly the rule is just _go slow_. Everybody is different, though i can imagine people given the choice of a level three or no car, would probably take the level three. The car won't drive you across the country, but it'll get you to the grocery store if the weather is good.

30 years ago the most powerful intel cpu was a 386. I’d be very careful to make predictions with absolute certainty like you given that we have already a level 4 commercial self driving service in Phoenix and it will expand in other cities during the course of the year. It’s also worth noting that until 5 years ago the absolute earliest and optimistic prediction was to have self driving cars in 2020, and this prediction has already been beaten.

Self-driving cars don't exist. Self-driving cars that work only in areas of the country where real winter doesn't happen do though.

Which is "good enough". People who have the choice between "no car" and "self driving car that sometimes refuses to start because of the weather" will still prefer the latter, as long as it's not too frequent in their climate.

Not being able to drive on certain roads because of road quality and other restrictions also become much more acceptable if you alternative is not having a car at all.

> People who have the choice between "no car" and "self driving car that sometimes refuses to start because of the weather" will still prefer the latter, as long as it's not too frequent in their climate.

This. As an anecdote, my grandmother still drives, but does not drive at night, or in bad weather.

No, no. It's not about refusing to start or anything like that.

In places that have winter it's not some roads. It's all roads. The surfaces will be completely covered for months. There will not be reliably or static visual indicators. People will park haphazardly and arbitrarily. People will act like people and form new arbitrary lanes to drive in. Parking lots will be free for alls. This is not something that only occurs during snow events. It's a multi-month permanent thing.

Interpreting this all and driving safely requires an general understanding of the environment and human behavior that machines just won't have for a very long time. It's hard enough for humans.

I live in a place that has a month of snow or so each year. But we also have snow plows and road salt, so the time roads are actually covered in snow are limited unless you are in the middle of nowhere.

Of course there are places where it's worse, and the US tends to have more extreme winters because of their unique geography (no mountain ranges that block wind from the North, combined with a huge land mass in the North). But that's the exception, most inhabited places have very managable winters.

Ok. I am talking specifically about Minnesota, Wisconsin, (upper) Michigan, (northern) Iowa, North and South Dakota. These are not desolate places in the middle of nowhere. They are very inhabited. I specifically live in a state university city. These places have well established snow infrastructure. And what I said before is still true.

The winter I describe does exist. It exists for many tens of millions of people in the USA in many states.

"Move fast and break things - having lawyers clean up a mess is still a good value proposition, crimes for progress are soon forgiven" is not quite the autonomy I was hoping for.

Google were saying they would be here by 2020. I expect the general public to be rightfully annoyed by many of these poor predictions.

I agree that true AV is way off but it seems like there’s a huge amount of good with partial systems (e.g. continuing to improve auto-braking to deal with inattention) and it’s not inconceivable that you’d see some popular retirement destinations (e.g. much of South Florida) do something like designated lanes for AVs (passenger or delivery) where you could simplify the problem and have things like weather/hour restrictions.

Retirees tend to avoid rush hour and bad weather, and they’re less time constrained, so there’s some room for experiments and there will be a growing incentive as more Boomers become unsafe to drive but are unwilling to give up a key part of their self-identity & lifestyle.

Waymo has already launch this in Phoenix for customers.

I wonder if they're driving any of them around now that Arizona temporarily has snow? I doubt it.

Technology takes time to evolve.

for places with shitshow traffic, very erratic drivers, tons of roadwork and pot holes, such as new york, yeah maybe 30 years, probably never. but the rest 95% of the country can be handled by self driving tech in 3-5 years.

"The rest of the country" also includes places with extreme weather (mostly snow and ice) and unpaved rural and forest service roads. In 3-5 years I see self driving cars being able to handle maybe 10-20 percent of the roads most of the time, and probably having huge blackout sections of the country for months of the year.

I live down a dirt forest service road that’s off a 2-lane 45mph paved road that gains 3000 vertical feet in 16 miles.

Yesterday it was snowing and there were 4 accidents during the evening commute. 2 were rollovers- SUVs taking a turn too fast for the conditions. 1 hit an elk- driver not paying adequate attention to the side of the road. 1 spun out and hit the ditch.

I think most of these accidents were easily avoidable with currently available technology. Simply driving slower and more cautiously would’ve prevented 3 of the 4 accidents yesterday.

fully would be ideal, but even partial would help. Last week a young woman lost use of her legs after some 80yo driver lost control. A bit of danger aware control system may be able to turn this into a lower level accident. Now maybe that would be too hard to ensure and insure..

I wish we would re-test drivers every few years after retirement. I see 70-80 year old drivers on the road every day driving in an unsafe manner. I dread the time when I have to take my parent’s licenses away.

The statistics on that are pretty interesting: https://aaafoundation.org/wp-content/uploads/2017/06/aaa_fig...

There is an uptick in crashes as you get older than 69. But, they aren't the most crash prone age group, or even close.

Narrowed to fatality crashes, they do stand out. I'm guessing, though, because they are less likely to survive because of age.

Full article: https://aaafoundation.org/rates-motor-vehicle-crashes-injuri...

That is interesting. At the same time I wonder about the data source. I’d imagine these are pulled from insurance/police data.

Anecdotally, I’ve been hit by senior citizens 3 times. All were very minor fender benders in parking lots or at traffic lights. In each case, I didn’t have the nerve to put them through insurance. We settled it personally and never reported to anyone.

Is it possible there are a lot of people like me that take pity on these older drivers and don’t report accidents?

Another common theme I see around me is when you’re in a corridor where most drivers are speeding by 5-10mph and there’s the one person in the left lane going 10mph under the limit. They’re usually a senior citizen. That creates bottlenecks and potentially dangerous situations behind the slow driver. They could be a contributing factor to accidents and wouldn’t be included in these statistics.

I suppose you could argue that those speeding are causing the accident because they’ve broken the law. It’s a fair argument.

I was wondering if (instead of level 5 self driving) there could be a simple inter car protocol to communicate presence/distance/range so that car could warn or even slow down (smoothly) when signal is caught.

That sounds workable, and could be implemented in parallel - with two caveats: what of unconnected vehicles (not using this transponder), and what of malicious data (e.g. faking road jams for fun and profit)

I think that France has been discussing or even passing a law going away from lifetime driving license to periodic checks. It's indeed a good idea. I know it's an effort on the people but we all know it's a lot better this way. Who knows, some people might even learn about their limits and find ways to relearn/improve instead of being blind.

My mom is getting up there and when I think about this and Lyft/Uber really the Gap is with Lyft/Uber you don't always know if you'll get a driver that will help you with heavy or bulky objects. With a taxi you wait longer but you can request it. But with Lyft/Uber there is still a good chance there would be help (currently).

With self driving there is no one to help.

As you get older you would want someone to make sure you got into the place. Someone to help you with groceries or other objects to the door.

This would nessiciarily drive you away from local business and to delivery for everything (online likely). And make it less likely you'd take the car if you needed assistance.

Eg as you get older where you have trouble driving you're likely going to need additional assistance that just a car can't provide.

Ha, if the Lyft/Uber/taxi driver even gets to the address! It's a constant annoyance for many at my dad's dialysis clinic that every car service basically decides to stop in the middle of a lane on a large street and leaves after 30 seconds, rather than pulling into the parking lot with loading zone in front of the waiting room. Even if you put the pin in the right spot.

I've been trying to convince my dad to use GoGoGrandparent instead of using the Lyft app so someone else can deal with ensuring the driver isn't an idiot, but he actually WANTS to track the driver himself.

Anyway, I'm feeling like by the time level 5 autonomous cars are around, we'll also have worked on improving helper robots for a big chunk of those needs.

Something's gotta get the robot in and out of the car.l unless they're all accessible. Which given the demographics they may be

The robot can stay at home.. the mall or medical center will have its own robots.

It's workable, but there's a problem. The fake-it-til-you-make-it self-driving car companies have unicorn-sized valuations. One that's actually doing it is measured on cost and return on investment. This competes with taxi and van services. You get rid of the driver cost while taking on lots of new costs. On a small scale, it probably loses money.

Navya and Local Motors, with their little slow shuttle vans for airports and such, have this problem.

It seems as if there’s a common assumption that taking out the driver opens up fundamentally different use cases. Even if we assume self-driving cuts costs in half (not obvious), that’s a big drop but is it a fundamentally change how people can use cars drop?

The thing I don't get about how most companies are approaching self driving cars is why they are trying to first get them to run on regular roads. It seems like getting them to work well on contained campuses with limited traffic like old age homes, universities, hospitals, corporate campuses etc seem like they'd be ideal places to test and deploy low speed self driving vehicles rather than setting them free on public roads as their first market.

From my limited understanding of the technology involved I would guess there's some risk of overfitting.

That is, it requires significant work to train a car to drive period, whether you train it in a relatively "orderly" environment (as we would think of it) or not. However, the training to drive in a chaotic city center should generalize to handle orderly environments, whereas the inverse may not be true.

The whole idea of driverless cars is not to be people movers on tracks, but to actually provide the versatility of a human driver in a car, so getting one that can do "everything a human driver can do" seems like the bar everyone needs to hit for it to be commercially viable.

As far as I can tell, these companies convinced their investors that they're going to be the next Uber, so they need to look like they're making direct progress toward that goal. Driving around a retirement home might seem like a distraction when Tesla claims to be shipping a fully autonomous car by the end of 2019.

Tesla claims things, and this is a perpetually moving goal. IIRC, they first announced it in 2015, to be completed by 2016. Well...I assume it could be a business tactic, to force competitors' energy in this direction, just as you have noted.

I wonder about that too. Is Tesla's corporate campus fully equipped with autonomous vehicles?

The campus is so full of parked cars that there's no space for cars to move, let alone autonomous cars.

The easiest case is freeways. City streets are vastly harder.

That is what the article is about

Or we could just build things closer together. Pros:

1. We’ve known how to do it for 5,000+ years and it still works. 2. People can walk or bike so they don’t wind up on My 600-lb Life. 3. Reduced greenhouse gas emissions. 4. Reduced stress from traffic. 5. Reduced traffic deaths. 6. Doesn’t rely on billions of dollars of unproven tech that may net work and we can get started today. 7. Reduces the soul-crushing boredom of suburbia, which has about as much character as a glass of water. Social interaction is important for humans.

Cons: You have to live in a shoebox and experience the soul-crushing boredom of urban cities, which has about as much character as a slab of concrete.

Full disclosure: I work for Drive.ai, and these might not be the views of my employer.

But yes, retired people or just sleepier communities with an older population makes sense. It's not just because of an early stage rollout of self driving cars for a good tech shakedown, but also communities like that stand to benefit the most from it.

My dad back in the motherland retired recently and have generally poor eyesight in the dark, so he'd rather take a Grab than driving by himself if he needs to go out at night. Self driving cars could fill this need.

So long as it is a car that CAN self-drive not one that CAN ONLY self drive then that sounds great.

Retired doesn't mean crippled!

My mother in law is 84 and is a perfectly competent driver. I suspect that she would find a self driving car more difficult to manage than the Land Rover she currently drives simply because the UI will be unfamiliar. I'm 63, and retired, and while I enjoy the additional features that my Tesla S has I don't want them instead of being able to drive the car myself.

My 90 year old grandmother took a drivers test at the instance of he children last year. She passed both written and driving portions. My other grandmother who is about ten years younger on the other hand is a menace that should of had her license taken away years (and multiple accidents) ago.

> So long as it is a car that CAN self-drive not one that CAN ONLY self drive then that sounds great.

It's just the natural progression of tech. For example, you don't see the Flintstone style propulsion system on modern cars either, even though users could drive their cars that way and some would even find it more intuitive.

What's a Flintstone-style propulsion system?

A car without a floor, propelled by passengers' feet; a running joke (sic) in the cartoon Flintstones. Doesn't quite fit into the real-world tech tree though...

The remake of Driving Miss Daisy just isn't going to be the same...

The same way as nuclear fusion will help retired people to spend less on electricity. Both things will likely never happen.

Here is recent a talk/lecture by Oliver Cameron, CEO of voyage, explaining in detail why they chose retirement communities and how they built their company.


These cars will have accidents, and they will have victims. Perhaps there is another hidden benefit for offering them to retired people - they have already lived most of their lives, and if an accident happens, it will be less of a loss.

I don't think EH was in either of those categories.

In general there are lots of ideal customers for all sorts of non-existent products.

It would create a bad image from a marketing point.

Oh really? People with money to buy a car but who can't safely drive are the ideal customers for self-driving cars? Mind-blowing!

Also insurance payouts will be lower on crashes.

So is mass transit. This sounds like a solution looking for a problem.

Paywall. How are commenters reading the full article?

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