You’ve seen the video on YouTube: Steve Mahan, a visually impaired, conservatively dressed, white-haired gentleman with a walking cane and Ben Hogan-style hat on his head, climbs behind the wheel of one of Google’s nautical blue-colored self-driving Toyota Prius. He makes a “Run for the Border.” Then Mahan, who has lost 95% of his eyesight, picks up his dry cleaning, takes a joy ride around his middle class looking community while munching on tacos. Then he returns to his driveway, exits the car (tacos in hand), and heads off camera toward the house, safe and sound, never having touched a steering wheel, brake or accelerator.
The clip is amusing and tremendously uplifting–showing how autonomous driving technology can empower a person, giving them a sense of independence and freedom to do whatever they want, when they want to do it. Problem is, most Americans (disabled or not) can’t afford such a vehicle, even if one were available, let alone the advanced driving assist systems that are available to the public now, and serve as the building blocks of autonomous automobiles.
According to the National Automobile Dealers Association, the average American spends around $30,000 on a new car or light truck. In contrast, Interest.com’s 2013 Car Affordability Study says that the average American can only afford to spend $20,806 on a car. The featured Prius, which starts at around $24,000, is optioned up with a $75,000 to $80,000 Velodyne LIDAR system, visual and radar sensors estimated to cost about $10,000, and a nearly $200,000 GPS array. Not to mention the cost of the driving computer and software. Put into context: The staid-looking Toyota Prius Mahan “drove” around in the video costs more than a Ferrari 599. At $320,000, that’s an exclusive purchase, and well above the mean cost of a car, truck or SUV.