Saturday, May 19, 2007

Car 54 where are you?

The NY Times posted an article about voice recognition in cars which describes the many advances in the technology as more buyers want this feature. It explains that voice recognition in autos require that the system "listen" to users' requests for things such as directions, traffic conditions, etc. Not having seen any of these cars, I was amazed at the progress that's been made.

So it got me to thinking about a discussion I had earlier this week with another disabled woman who was interviewing me for an article. We were talking about accessible vehicles which are quite expensive when you need lifts, ramps, or the like to get yourself around in a wheelchair. She really likes her van which helps her with her job and getting about and I was glad to hear that it's been a good purchase for her.

I have a few friends who drive accessible cars. One owns a new Honda Element that has a ramp that comes off the side and she loves it. Her about price with the features she needed: over 50 grand. I have another friend who has an accessible van with a lift. Her about price with the lift, a captain's chair and other features: over 40 grand.

Now their accessible cars, nice as they are and as much as I might envy them on days when I am struggling and dropping my wheelchair to get into my car, do not talk to them. Their cars do not listen to them either. I've seen their cars pull things like:

1. Open the ramp and then open a side window (for no apparent reason) when it's raining out
2. Open the door to the lift but then the lift will not go down
3. Experience electrical difficulties where the ramps and/or lifts repeatedly open/shut and no one is going anywhere that day

And no amount of talking to their cars works. These cars aren't hearing what their owners say. After spending 40 or 50 grand you can imagine the kinds of words that come out of the owners' mouths. (A hint: they aren't asking for directions to Pittsburgh.) It can get ugly.

What I'd like to see for that kind of money is this: an accessible car that's gas efficient, has few service repairs and opens the ramp/lift/whatever when I press a button. Whether it turns on the music I like, gives me directions or listens to anything else I say, I really don't care.

I would like features to make me more independent, like a better way to clear off snow/ice. I don't suppose, however, that voice recognition will help with that either.

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