Project Titan’s Accessibility Potential

The Internet has been abuzz in recent weeks over rumors that Apple is working on a car of some kind, which reportedly goes by the codename “Project Titan” internally.

I’ve joked on Twitter a couple of times that a so-called “Apple Car” would be useless to me because, as a result of my vision impairment, I wouldn’t be able to drive it. As flippant (and realtistic) as that initial reaction is, it occurred to me the other day that a theoretical Apple Car could have major ramifications in terms of accessibility. I see two possible scenarios for this.

The Self-Driving Vehicle

Realistically, the only way an Apple Car — — or any car, for that matter— — would be practical for me would be if it were self-driving. The benefit is obvious: all I’d need to do is tell the car where I want to go, sit back, and enjoy the ride. In theory, the car would do all the work that my vision precludes me from today as a traditional driver: steering, pedaling, parking, etc. In other words, I’d be “driving” without actually driving.

In Apple Car’s case, here’s how I envision the experience:

  1. Get in the car
  2. Use the CarPlay interface to tell the car where I want to go
  3. Put on my seatbelt and enjoy the trip.

Ideally, the car would be smart enough that it would automatically stop for gas (I could pump my own) and reroute for heavy traffic. I could simply use CarPlay and/or Siri to tell the car if I want to change anything about my trip, not to mention access entertanment options such as music or podcasts.

Of course, this line of thinking assumes that CarPlay will work easily and reliably, which isn’t necessarily its strong suit currently. But CarPlay’s competency is beside the point here — — my point is simply that CarPlay would be central to the driving experience for me. As I said, without such automation, driving is nothing more than a pipe dream. (It’s true even now — — driving has not at all been an option for me.)

So why is the self-driving aspect so important? It’s the key to accessibility. Because the entirety of the driving process would be automated, I wouldn’t have to worry about a thing. That my vision is too poor to drive as of now wouldn’t make a difference because the car would do all the work anyway.

More importantly, however, a self-driving car would mean access to a freedom that I’ve never known: an ability to go wherever I want, anytime, even on a whim. I think this is what most people with cars take for granted; armed with a license and a set of wheels, they can go virtually anywhere, anytime. As a non-driver, I don’t have that luxury. But a self-driving car would (again, theoretically) afford me that, nd in the process give me and others in a similar predicament) a feeling of indepedence unlike anything I’ve ever felt before. And that’s I feeling I surely wouldn’t take for granted.

In this context, self-driving cars represent the zenith of accessibility.

Why An Apple-Branded Car?

Well, because I like Apple products. And because the integration between my iPhone and, presumably, my Apple Watch with CarPlay would make for a seamless experience.

Yes, Google has its own fleet of self-driving cars, and maybe Tesla will someday unveil a self-driving car of their own, but I’m an Apple guy.

Bureaucratic Bugaboos

There are issues that would need resolving before I could get my car.

For one thing, the laws would need to be changed so that I could actually get a driver’s license without passing the traditional driver’s test. States (in my case, California) would need to create some sort of legal exemption for people with similar circumtances to mine to be certified to “drive”, on the griounds that the machine is the one who’s doing all the maunvering.

The second issue is more of societal problem. As a person with disabilities, I encounter many folks who presume I can’t do things based on the disabilities I have. One example of this is, because I’m low vision, I’m unable to watch TV or movies. That’s ludicrous, of course, but it brings me to my point about the visually impaired and driving. The majority of visually impaired people (low vision and blind) don’t drive for good reason. But that doesn’t mean there couldn’t come a time in the future where technology reaches the point that we could, albeit with an aid (the self-driving car).

All of this is to say that I think it would take time for the cultural norm to adjust to not only (a) self-driving cars being on the road; but (b) the fact that a totally blind person could be behind the wheel of said car. it doesn’t make sense at first blush, but, with time, it hopefully would.

Then there’s the problem of actually being able to afford an Apple Car…

Not Just for the Visually Impaired

There is potential relevance for self-driving cars beyond the visually impaired: people who shouldn’t, for one reason or another, be driving.

The canonical example is drunk/buzzed drivers. Say you’re too inebriated to drive home after twerking all night in da club. You get in your Apple Car and your car knows it’s you, and it offers to take to home. Your smart car then comes your designated driver. You can get home safe and sound, never having to worry about designating a driver or getting a DUI again.

Another example: you go into the hospital for outpatient surgery. Generally, the protocol is that you need to bring someone with you to drive you home afterwards. As with driving under the influence, your Apple Car could get you home. Maybe have someone walk you to the parking lot, but otherwise the car would do all the work. You can get home safely to relax and recup.

Pie-in-the-Sky Ideas

Everything I’ve presented in this piece is purely speculative on my part. I know no little birdies, know no “people familiar with the matter”, or anything of the sort with regards to Apple’s automotive ambitions. For all anyone knows, whatever they’re working on could have no self-driving component whatsoever, rendering all this spitballing moot.

Still, as someone who likes Apple, follows them for a living, and wonders about their Next Big Thing (after the Watch, of course), this kind of thought excercise is fascinating to me. Owning and driving my own car is something I’m only able to dream about, but these Apple Car rumors inspired me to ponder the possibilities. There is huge accessibility potential for self-driving cars, and with how fast technology progresses, perhaps in 0–20 years it’ll reach a point where my pie-in-the-sky ideas become reality.

Public transit, ride-sharing services, and the kindness of others are all great things for non-drivers like me. But trying to get anywhere beyond even a reasonable walking distance is a pain in the ass. A self-driving Apple Car would be a game-changer in the truest sense of the word. Maybe it’ll happen, maybe it won’t, but it sure is fun to think about.

Here’s to hoping for a more mobile future.