Driverless cars come to Australian retirement villages in November

Andrew Munro 4 September 2017

shutterstock senior woman wheelchair car 738x410

Autonomous pods may help give seniors back some of their independence.

IRT Group, one of Australia's leading aged care providers, has a plan to help retirement home residents get where they want to go. Called "Pod Zero", this autonomous vehicle can be programmed to autonomously navigate the closed roads in retirement homes, transporting aged care residents that are unable to drive.

Residents will simply be able to open an app to set their pickup time and place and get where they need to go.

Fuller details will be revealed in November's Information Technology in Aged Care (ITAC) conference in November. Immediately after that, Pod Zero will start trials in the Kangara Waters complex in Canberra and at a centre in Brisbane.

One of the most looked-forward-to benefits of driverless cars is their potential for restoring independence to seniors and anyone else whose impairments prevent them from driving. This is the first time an autonomous vehicle system will be live-tested specifically for aged care facilities. The learnings from November's trial could help shape the future of driverless cars.

pod zero driverless car

"We have many residents who are still mentally very capable but have to give up driving because of physical limitations," explained Yasoda Poudel, care manager at Kangara Waters.

"Currently, we rely on family and volunteers to help support our staff with transport but a driverless car future would allow residents to stay independent and connected to the local community without relying on a third-party to get them there."

Pod Zero will only be running on the roads inside aged care centres to start with, but IRT foresees it integrating with public roads soon. This way, residents will be able to get into vehicles aided by staff and get out on the other end with the help of the family or friends that they're visiting.

"The driverless car movement is gaining momentum nationally... It’s not a matter of if, but when the technology is deployed for general use," said Winston Mitchell, the project coordinator.

"Piloting the technology on private roads within aged care communities hasn’t been done before and IRT is eager to understand how driverless cars can improve residents’ independence and quality of life."

The upcoming IRT trial is largely focused on evaluating the system as a whole, and looking at the best way to train residents and employees in using the Pod Zero system. The end goal is improving the independence and quality of life of older Australians.

Australia has an ageing population and it's estimated that 800,000 Australians will be blind or vision impaired by 2020. So, it's an extremely important area of development. If all goes well, it might only be a few short years before ex-drivers and non-drivers can get back on the roads unaided.

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Picture: Shutterstock

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