A San Francisco Senior Takes Her First Ride in a Fully Autonomous Vehicle

By Lets Talk Autonomous Driving

Ms. Ng, age 80 of San Francisco, has doctor’s appointments to attend, but getting to and from her appointments makes her nervous. These appointments require her to travel alone in the city and make several transfers.

“My children are not around; I live in San Francisco by myself,” Ms. Ng explained. “Sometimes it’s not convenient to go to the doctor’s, especially because it isn’t so safe nowadays.”

That’s when she decided to contact Self-Help for the Elderly, a nonprofit that has provided assistance and support to seniors in the San Francisco area since 1966. In addition to many other services, Self-Help for the Elderly provides accompaniment services to seniors to ensure their safe travel to activities, medical appointments, and other errands.

“I felt uneasy, so I called Self-Help for the Elderly,” Ms. Ng explained. Self-Help for the Elderly then sent someone to accompany Ms. Ng to her doctor’s appointment, which gave Ms. Ng peace of mind.

Soon, seniors like Ms. Ng could have another safe and reliable option for getting from place to place, and Ms. Ng got to experience it for herself.

Ms. Ng recently took her first ride in a Waymo autonomously driven vehicle, at the invitation of Self-Help for the Elderly and Waymo, an autonomous driving technology company. Self-Help for the Elderly and Waymo have a shared belief that fully autonomous driving technology could one day help San Francisco seniors like Ms. Ng safely get from place to place.

Although she was a bit skeptical at first, Ms. Ng said she was curious about trying the technology.

“I told my daughter. She said go for it,” Ms. Ng said. “I wasn’t sure if it’s safe and comfortable to ride in. I had many questions. Now after this ride, I feel very good.”

Ms. Ng said she was impressed that the vehicle performed well in traffic, could stop automatically for traffic lights, and didn’t require a person to handle. In fact, Waymo’s fully autonomous driving technology is designed to obey traffic laws and even perceive and identify other road users, such as other drivers, cyclists, and pedestrians, and anticipate what they may do next to help make safe decisions.

“I think that if autonomous vehicles are available, it will be much more convenient for solitary elderly like me because once you call for it, it can deliver you directly to your destination,” Ms. Ng said. “I feel more safe riding in this than in a normal vehicle.”

Ms. Ng said she believes fully autonomous vehicles could one day support the work of organizations like Self-Help for the Elderly.

“With this type of car, things can be simpler,” Ms. Ng said. “Let’s say if I have to go to the doctor or supermarket, I can simply request a car then take the ride. It’s very convenient and safe. I feel really good about it.”

Self-Help for the Elderly provides other services an array of services and is truly a robust One-Stop senior and human services organization. These services could not have been possible without the dedicated staff, many of whom are bi-lingual.

Carol, who is in charge of scheduling accompaniment services at Self-Help for the Elderly, says that program workers and volunteers can go accompany seniors to grocery shopping, local excursions to parks and museums, and more to ensure they live socially connected lives. In just 9 months of work at the organization, Carol and her colleagues from the program have already served about 800 clients.

“I love helping elderly to make their appointments,” Carol said. “As many Chinese don’t know English, I also help them by calling doctors for appointments. Sometimes I translation for them.”

Ms. Ng said she was excited to see what the future will bring, and is very grateful to Self-Help for the Elderly.

“It’s very thoughtful of them to provide these senior services. The officers’ attitudes are also really good. I feel truly grateful,” Ms. Ng said.