Think about the ideal test lab for Silicon Valley’s most innovative technology, and Florida retirement communities may not immediately come to mind. However, active adults are on the cutting edge of autonomous vehicle technology in The Villages, the country’s largest 55+ community.
It’s also where Voyage, a venture-backed technology start-up, is unleashing a fleet of self-driving cars to provide residents a new option for getting around town.
Why Autonomous Vehicles Work in The Villages
Autonomous vehicle services (AVS) work best in communities like The Villages for a number of reasons, which Voyager CEO Olver Cameron recently laid out in an interview with The Economist.
First, the roads and the environment are easier to navigate. The speed limit in The Villages generally goes no higher than 20 mph, mostly thanks to golf carts sharing the road with automobiles. The layout of the streets is also easy to navigate; there aren’t any dramatic hills in Florida or complicated turns and curves. There also isn’t any snow, which is something that may confuse AVS sensors. Roads in 55+ communities are often well-maintained as well, ensuring safety and ease of transport.
The Villages is also ideal because mobility can be an issue for people in the community. They might not want to own or drive a car, but they still need to get to the grocery store, the bank, and the post office.
Abandoning the will to drive one’s own car is not unique to retirees; people of all ages are summoning Uber and Lyft drivers in cities and towns all over the world. In The Villages, leaving behind the expense and stress of car ownership is especially appealing. By utilizing this type of service, there’s no need for insurance, annual registration updates at the Department of Motor Vehicles, or recurring maintenance.
There’s also a large market in The Villages. With over 125,000 residents and plenty of private roads, it’s a great spot to evaluate the sustainability of self-driving cars. This is one of the fastest growing residential communities in the country.
How AVS Works at The Villages
Currently, Voyage is testing six prototypes in The Villages. As with ride sharing services such as Uber and Lyft, users need to download an app onto their mobile phones. Residents can summon a car from their home, the clubhouse, or wherever they happen to be. The car shows up and takes the passenger to his or her destination. Currently, the pricing model hovers at around $1 per mile. The company envisions a plan where there’s a monthly contract and users can pay per month for a certain number of rides.
Currently, the test cars are manned by humans. There are two people in the front seat; one who supervises the drive and sits behind the wheel in case something goes wrong, and one who collects driving data and monitors the software’s ability to perform. Eventually, the company plans to have these vehicles act with complete autonomy.
Engineers at Voyage expect that self-driving cars can reduce or even eliminate the 1.2 million fatalities that occur on the roads every year. The driverless cars in The Villages have eight cameras and high-density beams that spot objects up to 800 feet away from the car. When cars can only drive 20 mph, stopping fast is easy. There has not been an accident or a safety issue with any of the AVS testing at the community.
If the experiment with AVS in The Villages succeeds, getting around in retirement could be changed for good. While some residents may fiercely stick to keeping and driving their own cars, many retirees are forced to stop or just desire to stop driving. Self-driving automobiles may prove to be the safest, simplest way to get errands done during the day, get to the golf course, or enjoy a night out.
For now, golf carts are still popular for getting around the 100 miles of road at The Villages, but that could be changing.
The Villages Real Estate
Hundreds of new and resale homes are available in The Villages, where residents are treated to a lot more than self-driving cars. The town is self-sustaining, with grocery stores, retailers, restaurants, and medical centers. Residents rarely need to leave the community, which covers three counties in Florida and continues to grow.
The amenities include town squares, farmers markets, movie theaters, bowling alleys, places of worship, and dozens of golf courses (some of them free to play). Clubs and activities keep residents busy and socially engaged. There are fitness classes, parties, language and music classes, and events hosted by groups like the Italian-American club and The Village Theater Company. Support groups meet regularly and regional groups like the Wisconsin club and the St. Louis club get together to talk about home.
Prices range from affordable, with manufactured homes and patio villas in the low $100s, to estates with over 4,700 square feet that reach into the $1Ms. Dozens of models and floor plans are available to buyers seeking homes for sale in The Villages.