By on October 22, 2013

2011 Nissan LEAF

Propelled by the fastest-aging nation in the world, there may soon come a day when senior motorists will find themselves behind the wheel (or lack thereof) of a fully autonomous car.

According to Bloomberg, Japan’s aging population is spurring innovations in autonomous car technology based on a sobering statistic: 51 percent of traffic fatalities in the graying country come from drivers aged 65 and over, with no signs of slowing at the present as more motorists enter their golden and twilight years each passing day; by 2060, 40 percent of Japan’s population will be 65 and over.

Thus, a number of automakers — including Toyota, Nissan and General Motors — are doing all they can to introduce technologies that could, by 2020 at the earliest, lead to the first autonomous cars ready for sale.

What could this bring to senior motorists in Japan, the United States, and other graying nations down the road? Freedom, if Google’s Anthony Levandowski, one of the project leaders for the company’s own autonomous car project, has anything to say about it:

This technology restores the freedom that people can’t see. This system will drive old people to see their grandkids and see doctors.

While Levandowski and other autonomous evangelists spread their gospel throughout the industry, detractors such as BMW’s Klaus Kompass caution against having too much optimism about this brave new world, which he expects won’t appear before 2025:

We are always talking about, ’80 percent or 90 percent of accidents are caused by human error.’ Nobody is talking, surprisingly, about all the accidents that human drivers have avoided.

Back in Japan, however, at least one researcher hopes for the best, at least when it comes to his country’s graying road warriors:

“Zero fatalities is definitely a feasible target,” according to Kazunoba Nagaoka of the Institute for Traffic Accident Research and Data Analysis. “I would expect we can realize that by 2035.”

Photo credit: Nissan

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18 Comments on “Japan’s Aging Population Boosting Demand For Autonomous Cars...”

  • avatar

    I’ve been asked why, as a performance pooh-poohing putz, I bother reading TTAC. This article is a good example of why.

    Japan’s quick burn through its role as a global tech leader will provide the rest of us with valuable R&D.

    Too bad they’re so quickly fading away.

  • avatar

    I gave my mom a GPS so she wouldn’t get lost. She lost the GPS.

  • avatar

    Okay, so now we arguing between 2020 and 2025?

    I thought it would never work. At least that’s what Bigtruckreview, and many others have written here. Anybody changing their minds or want to double down or start raising the bar by changing the definitions? Hmmm?

  • avatar

    They’re barking up the wrong tree – especially for seniors. What is needed (and will happen) are personal assistance robots. You get the day-to-day in home assistance along with the ability to leave the home autonomously (semi at first) and run errands without driving. Eventually those personal assistant robots will have the ability to plug into a car and drive it.

    It’s an automotive industry centered point of view to think that that sort of tech will only be in the car. They’re missing the big picture.

  • avatar
    SCE to AUX

    Yuk – and I don’t care that’s it’s a Leaf doing the autonomous driving.

  • avatar

    Lots of people everywhere will want autonomous cars. Problem is – that we will see a lot more cars on the road. I don’t the exact ratio – but I know plenty of old people are scared to drive – and have stopped (which is responsible). They will all be able to start again.

    The people that are wrong at the ones celebrating this because (strangely) they think that the only thing that will change is that they don’t have to drive in rush hour traffic.

    The automakers OTOH – have to be worried too. Sure its a lot more sales in the short term. But why upgrade a fully autonomous car. They probably won’t go much faster then the speed limit – so who cares about performance. And you will likely be stuck in traffic anyway.

  • avatar

    “Nobody is talking, surprisingly, about all the accidents that human drivers have avoided.”

    Why should they? How many of those avoided accident situations were caused by human errors?

  • avatar

    Japan in the long term is a practical and honorable country that enjoys doing things slightly differently as long as they’re first at it. So their old people will eventually come to accept being corralled into institutions where they can be fattened up on algae and then fed as meat to the next generation.
    Also, these cars will need rocket science human waste collection systems built into the seats.

    • 0 avatar

      So does that mean they’ll be Soylent Green sushi?

      • 0 avatar

        With the still-continuing Fukushima meltdown, sushi and sashimi have lost popularity in Japan. However, those are still defined as raw fish. If in the future we are so low on cooking fuel that we must eat this new meat source raw, then think of it more like a ‘grandma tartare.’

  • avatar

    Japanese may dream big but it will not become the reality until Apple introduces iCar and iRobot no matter what Google tries to accomplish today. And then, 5 years later, Samsung will be finally able to copycat iCar using Google developed SW framework. Japanese companies will be left behind as usual because they did not want submit to Google but develop the SW themselves (remember i-mode?). There will be the new world order in the car production – people will change cars every 2 years with SW upgrades. The subscription model is the future of the car ownership. Batteries will last for two years too and will be non-replaceable.

  • avatar
    Jeff S

    I think this is good for older people especially in the US where mass transit is nonexistent in most places and once an older person loses the ability to drive they become immobile. This allows mobility for the older population. It is easy for those who are young to criticize and mock this technology when they do not have limited mobility. It is heartless and disrespectful to just say that when you get old and are not able to drive that you just need to die. You might not feel the same way when you get old.

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