IAP 2017-E3: Accessibility and Autonomous Cars

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Explore the not so distant future of autonomous cars and the accessibility implications with Jeremy and Mark.

The Interactive Accessibility Podcast (IAP) is an entertaining approach to accessibility. We enjoy sharing our discussions on accessibility and how it relates to technology, real-life issues, information, businesses, and people with disabilities. 

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IAP 2017-E3: Accessibility and Autonomous Cars


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[background music]

Recorded Message: Welcome to the IAP, the Interactive Accessibility Podcast, bringing you the people, technology, and ideas helping to make your world accessible to everyone.



Mark Miller: Hey, this is Mark.
Jeremy Curry: And this is Jeremy.
Mark: Jeremy, again, the blind accessibility guy, AT guy, comes forth with a great exciting topic. Last time we talked about flying cars, and we actually got into the discussion of autonomous cars a little bit in the context of those flying cars.


Now we really wanted to dive deep into autonomous cars, and you, Jeremy, have done some great research, which I just went through. It seems like there's a handful of companies out there, including companies like Google, and Ford, and a lot of the other car dealerships, and Tesla, of course, that are sort of in race to create an autonomous car.

Of course, that has some huge accessibility implications. The interesting thing to me about the autonomous car, really, is that -- almost like I feel the same way about the mobile phone -- is that it's really extending the capabilities of people with disabilities. Right now, for example, you can't get in a car and drive somewhere on your own, you have to have somebody drive you. Right?

Jeremy: I could, but chances of me getting there without running into something are pretty low. [laughs]
Mark: Right, unless you teach Darren, your dog, how to drive. [laughs] That might actually work. Right?



Jeremy: I keep telling him, "Bark once for red and twice for green." He just hasn't quite picked up on it yet.
Mark: Listen, I have a book for you that I read years, and years, and years ago, and all of the dogs in the book were driving. It was called, "Go, Dog, Go", and they were all about the red lights and the green lights, and they had these great hats. Maybe, Darren just needs to...You read that to him. See if that works.
Jeremy: I'll read that to him at his bedtime. It will be story time and maybe he'll just pick up on it. [laughs]
Mark: That's right. That'd be great. Dogs can't drive cars. We're just kidding, guys. Although, it would be great if they could, especially since my favorite childhood book was, "Go, Dog, Go". What we have is cars that going to be able to drive themselves.


The obvious implications for somebody who might have a mobility impairment, or have a vision impairment, and not be able to drive themselves I think are there. You can jump in an autonomous care, it takes you where you want to go. You don't have to grab a hold of the steering wheel, or do anything.

It also seems to me -- this is what I was thinking about, Jeremy -- that, a lot of the work...That's the accessible implementation of transportation, of being able to be transported in a way that's more accessible than what we can do now.

Jeremy: Yep.
Mark: But, that does not address the accessibility of the vehicle itself. I think that the work we're doing now in web accessibility is really paving the way for that user experience accessibility that's going to be necessary if people like yourselves are going to be able to conveniently take advantage of these vehicles.
Jeremy: Yeah. I think that's very true. I remembered when the first time that I read about Apple coming out with an accessible touchscreen, and one of the other screen reader developers and I -- at the company I was working with at the time -- we just read that, and just laughed and said, "Yeah, like that's going to work very well," moving yourself around a touch screen.


Obviously, now almost every person who is blind or low-vision and has an iPhone, it seems like, or an iOS device. It's become very prominent. I think about the [stutters] ...

Mark: [laughs] Implemencations?



Jeremy: Yeah, implication of...



Mark: Jeremy, you can invent new words. It's fine.
Jeremy: I'm trying. I like to make my own dictionaries every now and again. Just a hobby of mine.
Mark: That would be implementing an implication, I think. Implemencation.



Jeremy: Implemencation?



Mark: Hey.
Jeremy: I love it.
Mark: If LOL's in the dictionary, why not that?
Jeremy: The implemencation of that is, [laughs] if you look at some cars now, most of them have the touch screens. How do you deal with that when you're a blind or low-vision user? Even now, my wife and I have a car that's, I don't know, eight years old or nine years old, and it's got a touch screen, and I can't see it.


There are no buttons, really, to press. You just had to tap the stuff. Even that makes that a little bit difficult. Web accessibility, obviously will play into that as probably those become browser based, maybe, at some point in time.

Just general accessibility of trying to make sure that when you get into one of these autonomous vehicles that it works. Perhaps that means everything is speech recognition. What happens though, if you're unable to speak, or you're unable to hear? What types of issues are you going to come across then?

Because, if there's no human behind the wheel to communicate with, then that might be a challenge that we'll have to figure out, as these autonomous vehicles become prominent, which it looks like they're very likely to do in the next 5 to 10 years.

Mark: Yeah, and there's some crazy statistics around that, which is the other interesting piece of this whole autonomous car phenomenon, is that the predictions right now, because of how quickly everybody's developing this technology, are that we're in a revolution.


We're going to be driving around or being transported by autonomous cars. We think of the autonomous car, and I think a lot of us think about the Google Car, which drove around and took all the pictures for Google Maps.

We think about Tesla, and we think about these car-esque things, but we're talking about vehicle solutions beyond that, even, that people are working on, that aren't quite as pretty and cool, but are more practical, and this revolution is coming.

This is what's really interesting to me. One of these articles out there where you see Ford is really jumping on board. They fired the CEO, and they hired this James Hackett guy who was running their autonomous division. This is how serious Ford is about moving forward in the future towards this market for autonomous cars.

I think about when Ford came on to the scene with the first car, and somebody was making horse and buggies. All these guys that were making buggies for horses were like, "Yeah, we'll keep doing this. I don't know about this car thing," and they went out of business.

You see this happening over, and over, and over again, but it seems like technology moves so quickly, that we're in a lesson-learned scenario, and these companies are going, "We're not going to be able to continue doing what we're doing, we need to move to the next trend, the next phase." It's not even a trend, that's not the right word. It's the next phase.

That's what all of these car companies are doing. That's what your Internet providers...There's Google with Waymo. There's the ISPs, which I'm not going to be able to pull off the top of my head, from Russia are working on autonomous cars, and other technology. There's this Professor X that's coming out of university who is considered to be an AI genius.

He's coming out of university to create an autonomous car, which he's doing cheaper, and faster, and better, supposedly, than all these other people -- Apple, and Waymo, and all this kind of stuff. People see it coming, and they're all over it. It's crazy.

Jeremy: I think the level of acceptance is we're beyond the point where we think that it's just going to be in the future. Honda, just within the past couple of days, has said that, "By 2025 we're going to have a level four." There's these different levels of autonomy, level five'd be nice. Level four, they said their plan is to have that out by 2025.


They were talking within the next decade. Like you said, Ford is already changing their mindset. The stats are saying...I should say the projections -- who knows if they'll actually become true. The projections are that autonomous cars might only be 40 percent of the fleet, but they're going to do 95 percent of the miles, which means that the market is going to be shifting.

Instead of having direct consumer sales, we'll probably have something like Uber, where you just call up the autonomous car and it comes to you. In fact, I was joking with my wife recently, because my two-year-old daughter's really into this "Daniel Tiger's Neighborhood," which is a takeoff of the old "Mr. Rogers." That trolley that Mr. Rogers had, he was on a track.

That thing not only could drive autonomously, but he could change dimensions, and he had certain artificial intelligence.


Mark: Isn't it funny how in a kid's story, in a kid's show, we've really got the first example or the first idea of an autonomous vehicle.
Jeremy: Yeah, and then in Daniel's Tiger Neighborhood, they've changed it now. The trolley's no longer on a track. The family just goes out there. They don't even have a smartphone. They just sit there and wait. The trolley just somehow magically knows that they're there, and knows where they want to go, and they sit and ride.
Mark: Mr. Roger's trolley was like a kid's toy train track. It ran from one land, Mr. Roger's Land, to...What was that? The land of make believe? What did they call that?
Jeremy: Land of make believe, yeah.
Mark: Yeah, on that little track.
Jeremy: It's no longer the land that make-believe. It's here.
Mark: It's here.
Jeremy: The mark is shifting that direction.
Mark: I feel like R2-D2 really ripped off the poor Charlie, because wasn't it the Charlie the first one that decided to make little dings, and bells his personality voice.
Jeremy: Yeah, yeah, and then he would like go back and forth, too, if he...I can't remember, he didn't want to do something, or he was happy, or something like that.
Mark: It was ding, ding, ding, ding. He had that Charlie ding bell that he would...
Jeremy: Yeah.
Mark: I wonder if our autonomous cars of the future is going to communicate through beeps and dings.



Mark: Probably not, and I'm going to guess you are going to say not. You know why, because you just wrote a whole blog post called "Whose Voice Is It Anyways." about voices for screen readers, and ATs, and stuff like that, so I think you're a voice guy.
Jeremy: They're probably talking like that old modem thing, when you had to dial up AOL back in the mid-90s.
Mark: [laughs] [mimicking dial-up modem]
Jeremy: Yeah. [laughs]
Mark: Yeah, we just lost like ton of listener's right there.



Mark: Brought back that old sound that...Remember that? It was bittersweet. You had to put up with the sound, but you were excited because you knew within the next half-hour you'd be on the Internet.



Mark: Maybe downloading something.
Jeremy: Exactly. Then, within an hour after that, you might hear, "You've got mail."
Mark: That's right.
Jeremy: Speaking of ISPs, you talked about this Russian ISP, and there are lots of Chinese companies that are coming on board.
Mark: China, the China's.
Jeremy: Amazon has even put together some technology that could be fundamental to driving an autonomous system. It's kind of like, we couldn't have mobile phones unless we had a way to spread the Internet. Right?
Mark: Right.
Jeremy: There's some fundamental work there that has to be done. We can't really have autonomous cars until you have a way for all of them to communicate. Well, when we talk about all this stuff, accessibility plays a very key role in that because we're always talking about web accessibility now.


It'll be interesting to see where that type of fundamental technology, whatever it looks like, whether it's Apple that does it, or Waymo, or Amazon, or whoever has that fundamental layer, how we'll be working with accessibility in the next 10 to 20 years on the fundamental technology that these cars are going to use to communicate with each other.

I'm sure that people are going to be using that technology to communicate with each other as well.

Mark: Right. Waymo, by the way, is Google. I just refuse to call them Waymo, because they're just Google.
Jeremy: Yeah, it's just some subsidiary...



Mark: Its Google's self-driving car project. Just for those of you guys that might be getting confused between the two, but, yeah, I agree. The thing I wonder when it comes to accessibility is, if we're going to be...When we came out with the Web, and that hit us fast and furious.


You had some visionaries like Neal Stephenson, who wrote "Snow Crash," that really, in a fictional way, was able to very accurately predict what we were going to do with the Web, but nobody really knew. It all formed underneath us very organically, and so accessibility became a real...I don't want to call it an afterthought.

It was almost off in a corner that nobody really knew about it. The world as a whole didn't pay attention to very well, until recently. What I wonder is if that has really paved the way so that when we do something like an autonomous car that has great implications just like the Web did and just like the mobile phone did if we put accessibility in the front of developing it.

If we realize these UIs have to be accessible, and if...Or, Jeremy, the other thought is, are we going to be operating the autonomous car with our phone? Are we even going to have...Is there even going be a UI we have to worry about in the car itself?

Or are we going to open that Uber app 10 years from now and not only is it going to get the car there, but we're just going to use that to tell it where we want to go, and we don't have to do anything but get on our seat.

Jeremy: Yeah, very well could be.
Mark: You know what I mean?
Jeremy: It could be the interface to it, especially as Apple...Tim Cook mentioned that they're working on the actual technology. They didn't say if they're going to have a car or not. I doubt they will, but they're working on the technology. Google, though -- aka Waymo -- they're partnering with other cars.


It could be our car manufacturers. It could be that, basically, you'll open up Google Assistant, or Siri, or use Alexa, or whatever your favorite home assistant is, and just say, "Hey, get me a car," and it'll come here. That has implications for people with disabilities and mainstream because, if you can do that, there's no reason to even own a car.

If it can be here in just a few minutes, like the trolley on Daniel Tiger's Neighborhood, they almost never have to wait. They just go outside and it's there.

Mark: That trolley's smart though.
Jeremy: It is smart.
Mark: And very attuned to those individuals.



Jeremy: The only time they did have to wait is when they did an episode on patience.
Mark: [laughs] Then they had to wait for the trolley.
Jeremy: Then they have to wait for the trolley.
Mark: Maybe we'll have a patience setting on our autonomous cars so that, when we have teachable moments with our children, we can teach them about patience through the arrival of the autonomous car.
Jeremy: It could be. That's an interesting point, though. I was reading about one of the reporters who were riding along with Honda on their test track recently, within the past week or so. They said the car...You press this auto button. Obviously, this is all research and development. You press this auto button. It goes on this freeway and there was traffic, and so the car had to come to a stop.


Well, once the car came to a stop, it [laughs] notified the driver. It said, "Hey, we're going to stop now. You can enjoy this entertainment system," and then started playing a video, [laughs] and then allowed them to have a Skype call. [laughs] After it was able to go again, it said, "OK, we're good to go," and it shut that stuff down and then off it went. [laughs]

Mark: Wow. I guess that's what I'm looking forward to with the autonomous cars, is being able to do that. How come it was shutting down when it stopped, and...?
Jeremy: It could just be test. To me it seems like...
Mark: Legal applications...
Jeremy: ...you'd just be able to get in and watch a movie on the way to wherever you're going, but it's just all still in development.
Mark: I think that's another...If you look at the Tesla video that they have on their website, which I would recommend everybody do -- it's actually very interesting -- and realize, like I did in the beginning, they've sped up the video. [laughs] At first, I'm like this car is cruising through the streets. [laughs]


Like, "No, it's not. They just sped up the video." You see that there's a driver in the car all the way up until it parks. In the beginning of the video, they put right there, the driver's there for legal reasons.

However they get the license -- because they have to get these licenses to be able to test the cars in these cities, and what not -- for whatever reason, it required a driver in there. The Tesla car is very much, like somebody could take over. It's very KITT-like. For those of you who are not as old as I am, KITT is Knight Industries Two Thousand. That would be the autonomous car that Michael Knight drove in "Knight Rider," which was a fantastic show when I was...

Jeremy: Driven by The Hoff. Can you just say, "The Hoff?"
Mark: Driven by The Hoff. Anything he did, I think I was really behind when I was a kid.
Jeremy: He's the '80s superstar.
Mark: We won't even talk about the new "Baywatch" movie coming out I think that would be too tangential, but I'm disappointed The Hoff isn't in it. Those of you who are really enamored or remember that Trans Am and Michael Knight doing his thing, I think the opening pilot show -- this is going to be scary how much I know about the show -- he falls asleep behind the wheel of this car.


Of course, this is a secret project at that time, so he gets pulled over because the cop sees him and was like, "Hello." Then the car comes up with this whole thing about how, "Well, pretend you have a crick on your neck" and say this and say that and it'll explain the way that you looked when this cop passed you.

The point being, as soon as he fell asleep, the car was like, "Yeah, whatever. I'll drive," and drove him, but Michael Knight, who's an awesome driver, could take over at any time. The Tesla's very much like that. I think this is why they put a driver in there. It's because, if something went haywire, if the car all of a sudden became [indecipherable 19:06] -like, I guess the driver could take over.

The interesting thing is, is I think even at this point, statistically you're safer with the car driving itself because something like 94 percent of all car accidents are human error, and I believe it. We were up in Camden, Maine, and there's a lot of old roads -- this was this weekend -- there's a lot of old roads and stuff.

It had one those -- and it drives me nuts, they've got to do something about this -- stop signs that just interrupts you in the middle of driving. There's really no indication that you should stop other than the fact that a stop sign shows up out of nowhere, and I ran right through it. I was like, "Oh, stop sign."


Mark: Like, "Eh, that's human error, but whatever." Me being distracted by the people painting on the side of the road because it was Camden -- there's a lot of artists and people painting on the side of the road -- and it not really looking like a place I should have to stop, that's all human stuff that caused me to go through the stop sign.


Whereas a car would just be like, "Well, stop sign. Stop." It wouldn't be subject to all those sort of things.

Jeremy: Yeah, exactly. I think what's intriguing to me is that there are some people who either want to continue to drive their car or they fear having an autonomous car. But, if you have a statistic, it's 94 percent of accidents are human error. Even if you decrease that by 10 percent, that's millions of lives that are saved.


I think what's going to be a challenge inside of autonomous cars, just like it is with accessibility, is, if you look on Tesla's sight, at the bottom it'll say, "Hey, we can do this stuff," but it's based on regulations, like the self-parking. You can basically take your phone and have your car self-park it, but the regulations don't allow for it.

Mark: Don't allow for them...caught up with it. Yeah, which we talked about the previous podcast, that that's the big problem with all this is that the law moves so much slower than technology. But, in cases like this, I think they're going to have to figure it out pretty quick.


This is changing subjects a little bit, but I have a question directly for you because one of things that I found interesting...I can't remember who it was. I want to say it was Apple, but maybe you'll remember this better than I do.

One of the first things that they did was they threw...I think this guy's considered to be the first person to drive in an autonomous car, to be a passenger in an autonomous car, but they threw a blind dude in there. Did you know that?

Jeremy: Oh, yeah. Steve Mahan. I've talked to him before, actually.
Mark: Oh, you have?
Jeremy: Yeah. He's a neat guy and it was Google, and it was before the...
Mark: It was Google?
Jeremy: Yeah. It was before the...When Google had these little cars called Fireflies that [indecipherable 21:51] , but it was Steve Mahan before that.
Mark: Steve Mahan...



Jeremy: Yeah. There's a YouTube video on it and you can go watch this guy. It's pretty awesome.
Mark: Here's my question then. That made me think of you as somebody I know personally, and who is blind, and who has all the challenges that come with that. Thinking into the future, when you really have this first opportunity for an autonomous car...Maybe you're already experiencing this to some degree with the availability of Uber.


I know you're in a rural area, so maybe it's not something you've experienced a whole lot. How is that going to make you feel? In my mind, it's got to rush back just a lot of feelings of independence and freedom.

Jeremy: Oh, yeah. Yeah, absolutely. That's what I'm really looking forward to. For me, that's the entire reason to talk about autonomous cars. All the technology and stuff is great, but just to have that independence back. There are times that I'd like to just go grab something from McDonald's. Unless somebody is willing to drive me there, I can't do that.
Mark: You can't go do it.
Jeremy: Just to be able to go to Siri or something and say, "Hey, get me a car and take me to McDonald's." You just can't beat that independence. Like I said before, that feeling of having to give away my keys and stop driving was one of the hardest things I've ever had to do. To get that back would be just awesome.


And, to know that it's not just a dream anymore. When Honda said that 2025 we're going to have a level four, pfft.

Mark: It's going to happen.
Jeremy: Next 10 years? It's here.
Mark: It's going to feel like Christmas. Right?
Jeremy: It does.
Mark: Like, "Four years away. I can't wait for this." I was thinking, sometimes I try to put myself in the shoes of people with disabilities -- obviously, from my position -- and I was thinking about you, and I'm thinking, "Oh. Well, you know, he's lucky. He already has his wife that can just drive him around so maybe this is not a big of a deal."


But then I thought about how my wife and I operate. Yes, we jump in the car together so often and we go places, but there's also those times when we just need to divide and conquer. I've got to run to the hardware store real quick and grab something, and she's in the middle of doing something at home that she doesn't want to stop doing. I take off and go take care of that.

It's those kind of things that you guys can't do. You are so bound to that other individual in terms of having to go somewhere that it really does has to unlock a whole world that I'm sure you are excited to have back.

Jeremy: Oh, yeah. Especially taking your children to school events and things. If somebody's going to the bathroom and somebody else has to take the...There's just all sorts of stuff that just come back that you haven't been able to do, at least I haven't been able to do.
Mark: And being able to travel for work easier and all that stuff. The upside for society with all this technology is that it's easier and easier for people with disabilities to become a productive part of the workforce, and it's easier for people without disabilities to understand...
Jeremy: Things, but my wife also has an iPhone. It's the exact same thing. She sees the exact same thing. We're using the same device, where it used to be that you would use proprietary -- pick your device -- proprietary device, and that was solely for people who are blind and everything else was something that somebody else used.


Now we've got one thing that coalesces the two. It's like you take a graph and graph it, and it's just the point of equilibrium where everybody benefits from both sides of the equation.

Mark: That's going to happen with a car. That's going to happen with a car. It's going to be the same device for everyone. Proprietary, by the way, is pretty synonymous with expensive. That's another huge benefit. We're not talking about a person needing an accommodation that's expensive. We're talking about access for everyone within that one device. It's brilliant.


Anyways, we're at 25 minutes, so we probably should wrap things up, but great discussion and really an interesting future look into accessibility, too, I think. Thanks for all the research, and the discussion, and all of it. It's very interesting.

Jeremy: Yeah, you bet. It's a great discussion to have and, when they finally come out, maybe we'll just do a podcast with a test drive of one just for fun.
Mark: [laughs] That would be great. Podcast from the car. Alright guys, thank you very much. We appreciate you listening. This is Mark Miller for Jeremy Curry saying, "Keep it accessible."


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Recorded Message: The IAP, Interactive Accessibility Podcast, is brought to you by Interactive Accessibility, the accessibility experts. You can find our "Access Matters Blog" at interactiveaccessibility.com/blog.





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