United Spinal was one of several key stakeholders in the disability community to attend a demonstration of Google’s self-driving car on Apr. 28 in Washington, D.C.
The prototype car is equipped with a top-mounted laser that generates a detailed map of the environment around the vehicle and then uses that information in conjunction with real-world maps and Google’s evolving software to autonomously drive the vehicle.
“This is really exciting because the technology has huge potential for users with various functional limitations,” says Alex Bennewith, United Spinal’s vice president for government relations. “In their current form, the vehicles aren’t accessible for wheelchair users, but I look forward to seeing how they can be adapted.”
Google executives detailed their progress and explained their hopes for the project over breakfast at the Willard Hotel, highlighting their assertion that the car will help decrease vehicle accidents due to human error. Attendees, including Bennewith, then got a chance to ride through the streets of Washington, D.C., and on highways in one of two Google cars.
“It was crazy,” reports Bennewith. “It was like I was in a sci-fi movie. There was a woman in the driver’s seat, but she didn’t have her hands on the steering wheel or her feet on any of the pedals. The car did everything itself. There was also a man in the driver’s seat holding a computer that allowed you to see whatever the car saw. There is a manual override feature and there are still some software adjustments that need to be made but I can’t wait to see what upgrades Google makes.”
Google has not announced any firm dates for the next steps in the self-driving car’s development, but United Spinal is excited to be involved.