ANDOVER — At 70, Joe Ponti of Andover is staying active in his retirement.
He volunteers for various organizations and participates in activities that he wasn't able to do before, he said.
But if his car was taken away from him, it would be a different story. "I would be lost without a car," Ponti said. It allows him to get to the places he wants, when he wants. "It gives you an enriched life."
Bryan Reimer, a research scientist at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology's AgeLab, spoke to Ponti and a group of about 40 people at the Andover Senior Center yesterday morning and showed off one of the lab's AwareCars.
The red 2010 Lincoln MKS AwareCar, is equipped with minicameras and other sensing devices to monitor reactions of drivers. It is one of several like it at AgeLab, Reimer said.
The seniors gathered around the car as Reimer explained its functions including cameras mounted on the dashboard which track eye movements.
"It provides an advanced understanding on how people are acting and behaving behind the wheel," Reimer said.
Reimer said the purpose of the AgeLab is to look at what technology can do to improve the quality of life and "reinvent" the future of aging.
Information gathered from the AwareCars helps automakers design safer cars — especially for older drivers.
Reimer said because the general population is living longer, people are now driving later into life. Driving isn't just about getting from point A to point B, but is about maintaining freedom and independence for seniors, he said.
Before showing off the car, Reimer gave a presentation on the current trends in older driver safety and the impact of the future of automotive technology. "We look at how technology can improve and enhance mobility as we age," Reimer said.
Older drivers have recently had a lot of attention in the state, with recent legislation being passed that requires any driver 75 or older to renew their license in person at a Registry of Motor Vehicle branch and to undergo a vision test every five years when you renew your license.
"It keeps you young," said John Andreadis, 79, of Andover of being able to still drive. "It keeps you on the move."
Reimer said that older drivers are in general safer on the road because they use better judgment and avoid risk such as driving on busy roads and in poor weather.
He directs simulated and field studies focused on how drivers across their lifespan are affected by and adapt to new in-vehicle technology, different types and levels of cognitive workload and medical impairment.
Reimer told the seniors about future and current technology to improve driving including cameras for backing up, blind spot detection, lane departure warnings and cross traffic warnings.
"We won't be driving robots anytime soon," Reimer said, but he mentioned technology is going down the path of full automation.
Anne Gemmell Schwind, 69, of Andover, said she and her husband are looking to purchase a new car and the presentation has made her aware of some of the new technology available.
"I am very interested in safety," she said, adding driving means she is less reliant on others.
Technology is constantly changing in automobiles, said Margo Turpening, 71, of Andover. She said she has been driving since she was 14 and it's good for seniors to know what the future of transportation will look like.
She echoed what the others said about being able to continue to drive.
"We can get around. We can socialize," Turpening said. "We can be independent."