The jokes here could write themselves: a navigation system designed for the elderly will direct them straight to Ponderosa. It will tell you to avoid open-air markets and 7-11 store windows. It will come pre-installed only on Buicks. Et cetera, et al, ad nauseaum. But you see, we are too good for that. Instead, we’ll tell you that the system is being developed by the British Research Council, as part of a comprehensive program, nicknamed “Granny Nav,” to keep seniors driving and fulfilling their everyday lives. The total cost of this program? 12 million pounds, or about $20 million.
“For many older people, particularly those living alone or in rural areas, driving is essential for maintaining their independence,” said Professor Phil Blythe, one of the researchers behind this development. “But we all have to accept that as we get older our reactions slow down and this often results in people avoiding any potentially challenging driving conditions and losing confidence in their driving skills. The result is that people stop driving before they really need to.”
The team at Newcastle University decked out a car with comprehensive electronics: what they call DriveLAB comes with tracking systems, eye-motion detectors and health monitors to determine what seniors notice when they’re driving, and what visual cues to pick up on. It will also monitor how the elderly drive at night, how fast they drive, and how they’re able to follow navigation directions: landmarks as visual cues include mail boxes or—in true, traditional British fashion—pubs.
The elderly place a high value on driving. They see it as a form of independence and a way to stay socially connected. Without it, the Newcastle University researchers say, their health suffers, and they become more inactive and despondent. That’s why, jokes aside, this research will be very important when it’s formally presented at the Aging, Mobility and Quality of Life conference in Michigan this June.