OK, I do have a personal relationship with my car — her name is Iris, she plays soothing music (unless my granddaughter’s been in the front seat) while I’m navigating traffic and is a fine, fairly recent replacement for the ’77 Volvo my husband bought new. Although I’d rather walk or take the Muni almost anywhere, Iris keeps my grousing, and driving problems, to a minimum.
But now comes the AwareCar. The AwareCar proposes to figure out when I’m tired or distracted, remind me to put away the cell phone (not a problem, I do not cellphone-talk and drive), check my blood pressure, and when all else fails and I crash into something anyway, send vital information on ahead to the ER so they’ll be ready for me.
The AwareCar is the brainchild of the folks at AgeLab, an MIT project confronting the daunting fact that the 50+ population is the fastest growing segment in the world. Add to this the fact that we’re tending to live longer (unless you’re unlucky enough to be in Somalia or Iraq), with an American turning 50 every seven seconds, and you can see how AgeLab has its work cut out for it. No problem; they maintain that “an aging society is the opportunity to invent the future of healthy, active living.”
Wall Street Journal staff reporter Anne Tergesen recently alerted the world to the coming of the AgeCar, hopefully in time for some of these hordes of hard-driving Boomers. In an interview with AgeLab Director Joseph Coughlin and Associate Director Bryan Reimer (who hold those same titles with New England University Transportation Center) Tergesen quoted Dr. Coughlin’s response to her question, “As they age, what are Baby Boomers likely to want in a car?”:
Unlike their parents, this is a generation that isn’t going to say, “I’m getting older, so I’m not going to travel as much.” The boomers are working more and are far more engaged in daily activities than their parents were at a comparable age. Their expectations are far greater for products that facilitate their independence and mobility as they age. The impact on the car isn’t going to be about design, because no matter how old we get, we want our cars to look forever youthful. Instead, the boomers want the car to allow them to lead a forever-youthful lifestyle. That means it has to provide not only mobility but also safety and semi-automated features.
Thus enters the AgeCar, who is indeed likely to put Iris and her nifty sun roof in the shade. Its prototype — or perhaps more accurately its forerunner — is a Volvo XC90 currently cruising around Cambridge, MA with, Tergesen tells us, “$1.5 million of medical, computer, camera and robotic equipment. The goal? To create an AwareCar capable of sensing when a driver is distracted, faitgued or otherwise prone to accidents — and intervening to ensure a safe ride.”
To which I say, not a moment too soon. My son is about to turn 50.