When technology can be life-changing
Last weekend, a number of my friends on Twitter recommended that I watch a video. The short YouTube clip contained a truly amazing scene. A middle-aged man approached a car, opened the front door and sat in the driver’s seat. The man in the video is Steve Mahan, who is legally blind, having lost about 95 percent of his vision. Mahan began to direct the car vocally, and it started to move. Equipped with radar, electronic sensors and cameras, the car determined road and traffic conditions so that it could operate safely. And just as Mahan ordered, the car stopped at the drive-through window of a Taco Bell. Though this would have been a rather ordinary trip for most people, Mahan said it was the best drive of his entire life. With this technology, he will be able to independently go to all the places he wishes to go - a life-changing idea.
The impressive video was produced and distributed by Google, which began developing a self-driven automobile in 2010. One may wonder why an Internet technology company is developing a car, but many of the core technologies overlap. And the company’s work seems to have paid off. The driverless car has now been driven successfully for 220,000 miles. Of course, there is still a long way to go before a driverless car can be released for public use, but it has surely already given new hope to those with limited mobility due to disability, illness or old age.
Another piece of technology popular among those with disabilities is Apple’s iPhone. When touchscreen phones were first introduced, the visually impaired were disappointed because they could not operate the phones with their sense of touch. But the release of the iPhone finally allowed them to rejoice. From the first version of the iPhone, Apple included a voice-over function that assists with device manipulation and converting of e-mails and text messages into voice messages.
Google and Apple are not alone. Other international IT leaders such as Microsoft and IBM are working hard to develop technology for seniors and those with disabilities. The research is not simply altruistic. A new perspective on developing devices also leads to new technology and new markets. Accessible technology adds unique value to companies and their brands.
So if a company wants to become the second Apple, pure technology should not be its only focus. Entrepreneurs need to learn that other values are important, too.
The author is an editorial writer of the JoongAng Ilbo.
by Lee Na-ree