There are two milestones in the life of every driver: the day he gets his license and the day when he has to quit driving. Intermediary stops along te way –the first car, the first fine, the first long trip– tend to blur into one’s overall life at the wheel. However, what if technology allowed older drivers to continue to drive independently?
The possibilities between those two milestones are infinite. Driving means having the freedom go any where autonomously. And this capacity is not limited to pleasure trips. For many people, their car is their only way of getting around. For example, older drivers with physical limitations that impede moving by other means. Paradoxically, it is these drivers who are closest to finishing their career behind the wheel.
From mobile phone cameras to driving in the elderly
And all of this is happening when we have long had the technology that could turn this situation around and make driving and ageing mean the withdrawal of a car licence. Like the LIDAR scanner, which is present in the latest iPhone, or the sensors used in the technology of the Teslas autonomous cars. For the American consultancy firm EPAM Continuum, this, along with the fact that people over 65 represent 10% of the world’s population (in some countries it is estimated that in 2025 one of every four drivers will be older than 65) is more than enough reason to develop a solution. And thus was born the Silverkey project.
The key is integrating it into the lives of seniors. For starters, the Silverkey system collects data about the skills and habits of the driver. When adding more information about his health, a profile is produced. Starting then, Silverkey begins to support the driver when he is behind the wheel.
How does it work?
It does so through several different modules. Before beginning a trip, it shows a possible itinerary along with all the points where difficulties might be found. And once the journey has begun, there is real time assistance at the most complicated points, such as when entering a highway, parking or passing another vehicle. A system that has been integrated into the vehicle “guides” the driver through the most complicated maneuvers. It suggests to him the right speed for moving into a traffic lane, or the distance necessary to pass another car with complete safety.
The firm says that in the future the system could even assume control if the vehicle during a short period of time. For example, after some kind of problem or a risk situation, thus helping the driver to regain control over all his capacities.
In addition, the Silverkey system updates the driver’s profile with information about his different journeys and performance. This data allows not only him but his family members to know exactly where his driving abilities are. In this way, the decision about when to stop driving is evaluated on the basis of reliable information about a whole series of habits and capacities.
But Silverkey’s usefulness extends beyond the time when a driver should stop driving. Once it is impossible for him to drive with total safety, the system continues to be useful in supporting him on regular trips.
To start with, by putting him in contact with a network of people who do the driving, thus allowing the senior to maintain his autonomy. And in the future, when autonomous cars and the law are in agreement, by using this technology as a support system for moving around.
According to EPAM Continuum, a consulting team is intermittently working on the Silverkey project. According to their calculations, this technology could be available within five years. Starting then, it will be a question of making it a reality through agreements with car manufacturers.
With the increase in life expectancy, there are more and more elderly people who need to maintain their autonomy. In many cases, being able to drive means the difference between being able or not to being able do many things. For that reason, developing solutions that permit older people to drive longer –with safety for themselves and other drivers– is an important need. Systems like Silverkey bring us a little closer to a future in which life will be easier for older people.