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  WINDY CITY TIMES

VIEWS Google car could help the blind
Special to the online edition of Windy City Times
by Robert Kingett
2013-09-24

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If I want to go anywhere in Chicago, my methods of transportation are very limited. For someone who's blind and has cerebral palsy, taking public transit is beyond difficult.

In order for me to go to the movies, on a date with a gorgeous guy, to interview someone for a journalistic endeavor, or to go to school, I have to pay $6 a day, $180 a month, or $2,190 a year to ride Chicago's Paratransit system. That isn't even a fraction of the costs for PACE to operate the Paratransit system. Why do I care though? I'm just a consumer.

I'm not just a consumer, I'm a blind journalist here in Chicago who's advocating for getting a law passed that would allow autonomous cars to drive on the streets of Illinois, breaking my dependence down to zero, and also saving the state billions of dollars on Paratransit cars. There's a solution to all of my independent transportation problems bundled with a nifty solution for state costs. That solution is what's commonly referred to as the Google car.

In September 2011 Google launched a car that automates the driving process. The Google driverless car is a project by Google that involves developing technology for driverless cars. The project is being led by Google engineer Sebastian Thrun, director of the Stanford Artificial Intelligence Laboratory and co-inventor of Google Street View.

The Google car, operating on a wide array of technology found today such as GPS, maps, and high-speed cameras that spin at 360 degrees on the roof of the car to give a clear view of what's around it, has already proven that it can make the figure of 40,000 deaths due to car accidents disappear by driving safely and smartly using the combined technology. The system drives at the speed limit it has stored on its maps and maintains its distance from other vehicles using its system of sensors.

Illinois isn't on board with driverless cars yet but other states are, reducing their cost of Paratransit and public transportation significantly. The U.S. state of Nevada passed a law on June 29, 2011 permitting the operation of driverless cars in Nevada. The Nevada law went into effect on March 1, 2012, and the Nevada Department of Motor Vehicles issued the first license for a self-driven car in May 2012. The license was issued to a Toyota Prius modified with Google's experimental driverless technology. Since then, no accidents have occurred and money did not have to go into paying for public transportation, saving the state a lot of dollars.

Nevada isn't the only state jumping on the bandwagon that will save dollars. As of April 2012, Florida became the second state to allow driverless cars on public roads. California became the third state to legalize the use of self-driven cars as of September 2012

Four U.S. states have passed laws permitting driverless cars as of September 2012: Nevada, Florida, Texas and California. I want to have that same freedom here as well. Deciding to really dig around and see just how foxy this car was, and the roads that it traversed, I did some heavy duty searching online to find out what the testing process was for these cars.

The project team has equipped a test fleet of at least 10 vehicles, consisting of six Toyota Prius vehicles, an Audi TT, and three Lexus RX450hs, including a blind driver, Steve Martin, who, for once, did not have to call Paratransit to take him to pick up his dry-cleaning. The car has traversed San Francisco's Lombard Street, famed for its steep hairpin turns, and through city traffic. The vehicles have driven over the Golden Gate Bridge and on the Pacific Coast Highway, and have circled Lake Tahoe.

In August 2012, the team announced that it has completed more than 300,000 autonomous-driving miles (500,000 km) accident-free, and they typically have about a dozen cars on the road at any given time.

There are many financial benefits that will play out when self-driving cars are allowed here in Illinois. Mainly for the blind and the visually impaired. If this car were allowed to drive on the streets there would be less need for Paratransit, allowing that money to be spent elsewhere to enhance things in need such as education costs, scholarships, and many other venues.

It would significantly enhance the lives of every other blind person in Illinois, allowing us to have more stable job opportunities because we wouldn't have to limit ourselves closer to home, thus allowing us to give back in a larger fashion. Many blind people have to stay rooted to a certain job location, close to their homes, because of the barrier of time that Paratransit places, often showing up early or very late to events.

If there's one thing that I truly see when I step outside and watch independent sighted people fly by me in a dodge, or a Honda on a hot day or a freezing evening, I see that they are truly free as a bird and can zip anywhere that their engine can take them. Even though this car is a long way off from an affordable cost, the benefits for the state will be immediate the day this car becomes globally available. Fewer roads would need construction because the cars obey every law of the rode automatically.

Riding Paratransit for $6 a day, $180 a month, and $2,190 a year is a helpful accommodation but I want to have the chance to use my $6 a day, $180 a month and $2,190 a year go toward something else.

Illinois has given me a solid bus system that, unfortunately, I can't use, a competent transportation system that gets me places, but I want to push Illinois to give blind people a chance to give our $2,190 a year back to the community, give us the chance to take jobs that are farther away from our homes, or even allow us to drive to never before seen places that Paratransit can't go. Sighted people have that advantage and luxury. We should as well.

The reward, for everyone, won't happen overnight but the wings of positive repercussion will definitely carry our state to new heights of financial gain, and inclusion for the blind and otherwise disabled. Rewards will come, in big or small increments. They may just zip by us on our way to work while eating a taco, letting change drive itself.


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