Mobility is important - in later life even more

tim smithTim Smith

Global Auto & Mobility Director, ustwo, London

Tim, you are Global Auto & Mobility Director at ustwo in London. Your focus is “human–to–whatever” interaction, what would you highlight when it comes to the latest interior design of cars?

The first thing that strikes me is how digitised the interior functions of the car are becoming. Almost all the features of the vehicle seem to be interacted with through a digital interface of some kind. That might be Tesla's tablet-like touch screen or Mercedes-Benz's new MBUX which allows you to interact with the car through gestures and voice. The problem is, the touchscreen works well sat on a park bench and voice interaction works well at home - not while driving at 70 mph. Digital interaction can be great, if applied appropriately, both to the context and to the user. 

Do you think that the current cars are “easy to use” for a senior driver? What has got worse, what better when comparing to the early 2000s?

I think senior drivers are as capable as younger drivers in all regards - the issue though lies with the digital layer I spoke about earlier. Not everyone has grown up with iPhones or smart home devices, so technical fluency can create a barrier to use of certain cars or certain car features. One example is that of voice control as mentioned above. The great thing with products like Amazon Echo and the like is that there is a physical manifestation of the entity to which you're speaking to, a physical location by which to direct your voice. The problem in the car is that a fixed position like that, perhaps in the centre console unit, can cause less tech experienced users to look away from the road which is clearly a danger.

Today everything is about “sharing”; is shared mobility something seniors buy into?

From our research the answer is a profound "yes". Some senior drivers will unfortunately lose their license after a certain age - something that causes anxiety earlier on for many people. Driving cessation can also lead to depression and other mental and physical health problems. Car sharing then can be a great opportunity to continue to enjoy the drive, be mobile and socialise with others.

From your experience, what are the biggest differences when it comes to senior mobility vs. young mobility?

There are a number of things. Younger people tend to be energy rich but cash poor. Micro mobility options such as Bird scooters have exploded in certain cities as a way to travel affordably in the city, their users also enjoying being active and social. Senior people can be the opposite; energy poor but cash rich, so a car makes sense for them. The model of car ownership however is dramatically changing, with many people preferring to pay for mobility as a a service or car "access" as a subscription, like Netflix or Spotify. This may be where senior mobility goes; still using the car, but subscribing to it, rather than owning it. 

This year SENovation-Award highlights “mobility in later life” with a special prize. Which areas of mobility need the most innovation for seniors from your perspective?

I would say physical and mental access. Vehicles must be easily accessible, both in terms of availability and practicality. Can a vehicle easily be located for the individual and can they physically enter and exit the vehicle comfortably? We mustn't forget the emotional or mental accessibility however. Mobility is important for all of us and in later life that is ever more important - largely for mental wellbeing. Neuroscientists suggest that the human need for social interaction is as important as our physical need for food and water. We must ensure that this is considered when developing technologies such as autonomous vehicles - which could potentially decrease opportunity for social interaction even more.