The Haphazard Blog

Tag: accessible vans

Where Are Full Drive-by-Wire Cars?

by on Mar.07, 2010, under Life, Technology

My biggest regret since my accident was not driving. My rehab was moving so quickly in the beginning I thought I could easily get a wheelchair in and out of a car (like a Mustang) instead of getting a minivan. Way cooler, and at 16 or 17, that’s all that mattered. At the time (1995), getting a new minivan with a lift was $40,000, roughly 3x more than my parents had paid for their last car.

Once college started, I was using public transportation to and from campus. It was basically door-to-door and very convenient. When I started working, I worked in the same city as my Dad, so we commuted together. Then I started to work from home. So, nearly 15 years later, I don’t own a car. It’s the primary contributor to my total lack of a social life and that is why I do wish I had started driving when I started college. I’d be a whole lot more social now. I plan to have that change this year.

I started to look for a van last year. I was shocked to find out that the only thing that has changed in all this time is the price, and it has just gone up. Minivans and the conversions both cost more. I didn’t exactly expect a major auto-manufacturer to mass produce these types of vehicles by now, but I thought technology might be a little further along.

If someone wanted a full drive-by-wire system for their car (electronic steering, acceleration and braking), there is one company that makes the necessary equipment and it will cost in the neighborhood of $50,000. It’s a pretty sad state of affairs in the industry. You buy a brand new van and then pay $20,000 to have major modifications made to it to drop the floor. I don’t expect an auto manufacturer to tool a line to produce vans that would be equipped with lifts, but surely these companies can have some type of ┬ácollaboration to reduce the costs.

As evidenced by the Toyota problems, common cars now have electronic throttle and braking. No one has worked with a manufacturer to integrate the acceleration/braking controls into this system. It would allow for much simpler systems to accelerate and brake. Toyota also has cars (Lexus LS, 3rd Generation Prius) that have parking assist systems that can automatically steer the car for parallel and reverse parking. I couldn’t find details on exactly how those systems control the steering wheel, but clearly a computer is sending the signals and the wheel is turning. It seems the technology is here, but no one is making use of it to bring new/better controls for vehicles that require hand controls.

I’m fortunate that I only need a minimum amount of adaptive equipment to drive, but for many people, there is a very large price barrier to drive and be more independent. This seems like an area where the first entrant could have a major advantage. They could create exclusive agreements with manufacturers to work with their engineers and get their systems to inter-operate at a computer level. The agreements could be win-win for both sides.

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