Australian aged care provider, the IRT Group, has announced a world-first partnership with UK-based technology firm RDM Autonomous to develop driverless vehicles for residential aged care facilities.
The Australian Ageing Agenda (AAA) reports that RDM Autonomous has recently opened its first satellite office in South Australia, and will be working with the IRT Group to bring autonomous cars to retirement homes.
Details of the program will be revealed at the 2017 Information Technology in Aged Care (ITAC) Conference on the Gold Coast in late November, though the AAA reports that the companies plan to introduce RDM's Pod Zero (pictured) for initial testing at IRT's Kangara Waters facility in Canberra.
Following the ITAC Conference, the Pod Zero will also make its way to one of the IRT Group's bases in Brisbane.
Speaking with the AAA, Winston Mitchell, IRT IT project coordinator, said: "Piloting the technology on private roads within aged care communities hasn’t been done before and IRT is eager to understand how driverless cars can improve residents’ independence and quality of life".
"Pod Zero will be programmed to safely navigate private roads within IRT Communities and residents will be able to hail Pod Zero and travel independently to appointments and social activities within their community."
"IRT intends to ensure that older Australians aren’t left behind. In fact, it plans to make them first in line to benefit from this exciting technology," he added.
For the trial program, IRT employees and residents will receive training in terms of how to use the Pod Zero vehicles, along with technology deployment, participant consultation and system evaluation stages.
It's argued that driverless vehicles would allow aged care residents regain their independence.
"We have many residents who are still mentally very capable but have to give up driving because of physical limitations," said Yasoda Poudel, care manager at the Kangara Waters site.
"Currently, we rely on family and volunteers to help support our staff with transport but a driverless car future would allow residents to stay independent and connected to the local community without relying on a third party to get them there."
Poudel added that once autonomous cars are able to be used on public roads, elderly residents will be able to visit their families more often, while also having staff on hand to assist them into the car - while family can assist at the destination.
The ITAC Conference runs from 21-22 November on the Gold Coast.
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