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Fact or Fiction? Self-driving cars will revolutionize the lives of the visually impaired.

Posted by Tom Cockley | Posted on June 20, 2012

Self-driving cars.  Wow!  Sounds like a concept from an old TV program like Knight Rider where “Kitt,” the Pontiac Trans Am, could drive itself!  Or the Batmobile in the Batman series!  However, the concept of self-driving cars has been in the news recently when Nevada became the first state to permit large scale testing of self-driving cars on its highways!

I came across a fascinating article in the recent issue of SupportSightNEWS — the newsletter of the Macula Vision Research Foundation (www.mvrf.org).  In the newsletter, Dr. Phillip J. Rosenfeld, Professor of Ophthalmology at the Bascom Palmer Eye Institute of the University of Miami Miller School of Medicine writes that Google received a patent for its driverless car system late last year.

Nevada became the first state in June 2011 to change its laws; effective March 1 of this year large scale testing of self-driving cars on Nevada highways is permitted. The first license was issued for a Toyota Prius using Google’s technology in May.  Florida, California, Oklahoma, and Hawaii are considering similar legislation.  Other companies such as General Motors, Volkswagen, Audi, BMW, and Volvo have begun testing driverless car systems. General Motors stated that it will begin testing driverless cars by 2015, and they could be on the road by 2018.

This isn’t a crazy, futuristic idea from a science fiction movie or TV show. This is real technology. It will also be big business. Dr. Rosenfeld predicts that in terms of its social value, it will have a dramatic impact on those who are visually impaired, especially those with age-related macular degeneration (AMD) and other vision losses.

It also has the potential to be profoundly and positively life-changing. The self-driving car could revolutionize the lives of all who suffer with vision loss.  Dr. Rosenfeld states that where he practices and teaches public transportation is inadequate and county transportation services, reserved for those with very poor vision, require painfully long wait times. His patients rely on friends and family to keep their appointments, go to the supermarket, and manage their day to day activities. For wet AMD patients receiving frequent eye injections to save their vision, the treatments alone place a huge burden on family and friends. These patients need someone to drive them to the appointments, wait for them as they undergo evaluations and injections, and drive them back home. Each visit can last hours, and can be required every month.

What if it were possible to get into a self-driving driving car, tell it where to go, and miraculously arrive at your destination? It is possible! The technology already exists. What lags behind are the laws and infrastructure to support this technology.

There is still much work to be done and issues to be resolved. But, as Dr. Rosenfeld states, “Though we can’t cure macular degeneration or restore vision at this time, we can build self-driving cars that will improve the quality of life for those who have lost their independence, and especially those with vision loss.”

I certainly hope self-driving cars become a reality.  They could significantly help your low-vision patients get the care they need from you as well as accomplish other independent tasks.

Tell me what you think:  what’s your prediction about when they will hit the road?

Be visionary with Gulden! 

Gulden manufactures and provides a wide range of diagnostic tools and equipment.  Our Automatic Confrontation Visual Field Tester, Optyse™ Pocket Ophthalmoscope, and Illuminated Near Card are great examples of effective, reasonably priced tools for vision testing and diagnosis.

Click to learn more about our diagnostic tools and vision screening tools.

Click to read the Spring 2012 issue of SupportSightNEWS® — the newsletter of the Macula Vision Research Foundation

Tom Cockley is president of Gulden Ophthalmics and is the third generation of the nearly 75 year old visionary company that brings innovative, time-saving, utilitarian products to vision and health care professionals.

Information for this blog post reprinted with permission from SupportSightNEWS.

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