Driverless Miss Daisy

A small black and white pod shaped vehicleDriverless vehicles will soon be transporting retirement village residents around the place. IRT Group, a retirement living provider, has formed a partnership with RDM Autonomous to trial driverless vehicles in their retirement settings. This is one way to make sure older Australians aren’t left behind with technology. The trial, called Pod Zero, will be programmed to navigate private roads in the IRT communities. The pilot will also provide evaluation feedback to designers and operators. You can read more about this in the Australian Ageing Agenda article. The UK Daily Mail also has an article about this vehicle.


Joined up Journeys

Front cover of the document with the Australian Government logo in white against a dark blue banded background and pictures of a bus ramp and yellow tgsi on station platformsThe Australian Government’s publication, The Whole Journey guide is the result of a consultation process early in 2017. This is a guide for thinking beyond compliance to create accessible public transport journeys. With over 50 pages it is comprehensive and a useful document for planners, designers, policy makers, certifiers, operators and users of public transport. The key message is that standards provide minimum requirements, but “there is a great deal more to accessibility than just compliance with the standards.” There are links to other useful documents in the publication. George Xinos writes in Sourceable that another review of Transport Standards is due soon. 

Citing the National Disability Strategy, the Guide explains universal design by referencing Audirac’s article Accessing Transit as Universal Design, (2008), which is in the context of the American’s with Disabilities Act.  

Accessible design: designing for equal useability for people with a diversity of abilities with regard to mobility, facilities, devices and services, and incorporating disability access standards.
Inclusive design: designing products and services for the needs of the widest possible audience, irrespective of age or ability.
User-centred design: placing users’ perspectives and needs at the centre of the design process
Barrier-free design: constructing or retro-fitting infrastructure and vehicles to eliminate barriers and obstacles that would otherwise restrict the range of users and purposes for which the space can be used
Trans-generational design: improving quality of life for people of all ages and abilities, both now and into the future
Assistive technology: engineering that enables people with a range of abilities to complete tasks by enhancing physical, sensory and cognitive abilities

Picture showing the level access from the platform into the train

Audirac’s publication is almost ten years old, but the list adds to the notion that universal design embraces diversity, and should therefore embrace diverse ways of explaining it


Autonomous vehicles and mental health

Part of the rear of an electric powered car Previous posts have featured autonomous vehicles, and now mental health enters the discussion and research. According to the Journal of Urban Design and Mental Health, the mobility revolution is almost upon us. In just three years it is expected that fully autonomous vehicles will be on the market. So we have to start thinking about the impacts now – the NRMA thinks so too.

David Rojas-Rueda writes that autonomous vehicles offer an excellent opportunity to reshape our cities, but we need to understand how such changes can both help and perhaps hinder the mental wellbeing of the population. For example will driverless cars encourage more alcohol consumption if you no longer have worry about a breath test? Will workers be expected to use their hands-free travel time to do more work? What about physical activity? For more on this discussion read the article, Autonomous vehicles and mental health.

As a driver/road user organisation, the NRMA is embracing this change and working with it. They are updating their publications regularly. The latest one, The Future of Car Ownership gives an in-depth view and is good reading for anyone interested in cars, driving, travelling and mobility – mobility being the new word for transport. There is also an infographic if you just want the key points.


Transport, mobility and society

Birds eye view of a wide pedestrian crossing with lots of people on itProfessor Graham Parkhurst’s slideshow makes it easy to digest the concept of automated vehicles and the impact this technological change will have on society. One impact is the opportunity for greater equity in the independent use of motor vehicles. The technology for automated vehicles goes back to the 1980s to the current Google car with no steering wheel or control pedals. The slide show is quite long with some of the most interesting slides in the second half. Plenty to think about.

Professor Parkhurst is with the Centre for Transport and Society at the University of the West of England. It’s mission statement is, “Furthering understanding and influence on the interactions between mobility, lifestyles & society in a context of technological change.” This includes equity in transport and mobility. Their webpage has links to other publications.


Designing autonomy in cars

A view looking down a long vertical tunnel with cars parked in racked baysA survey and two focus groups were carried out to find out current attitudes towards autonomous vehicles. The researchers present their findings in a book chapter in Designing for Inclusion. The title is, “Designing Autonomy in Cars: A Survey and Two Focus Groups on Driving Habits of an Inclusive User Group, and Group Attitudes Towards Autonomous Cars”. With Australian governments and transport planners focused on connected and autonomous vehicles for the future, this is timely research. We must make sure everyone is included.
Abstract: Autonomous driving is a topic of extensive research; however user views on this new technology are largely unexplored, especially for an inclusive population. This paper presents a survey and two focus groups, investigating driving habits and attitudes towards autonomous cars of an inclusive group of UK drivers. A subset of survey participants were invited to attend one of two focus groups, to discuss handovers of control between car and driver. Maintaining safety, trust and control were themes commonly identified in both focus groups, while unique views and concerns, relating to different characteristics of the group were expressed. These results can inform an inclusive, user-centred design of autonomous vehicle interfaces, especially for the safety-critical use case of driver handovers of control.”
You will need institutional access for a free read, otherwise the chapter can be purchased.

Lifelong mobility with automation

cars on a two lane highway Connected and automated vehicles are being trialled across the world, but will their use and facility be universally designed? The arrival of the driverless car could be life-changing for people who have been unable to own and/or drive a car. In their article, Towards Life-Long Mobility: Accessible Transportation with Automation, the authors explore some of the challenges and opportunities for automated vehicles for people usually excluded from driving. They conclude that the future of automated vehicles for currently excluded people seems to be promising.

Despite the prevalent discussions on automated vehicles, little research has been conducted with a focus on inclusiveness of traditionally excluded populations from driving. Even though we may envision a future where everyone can drive with perfect automation, the problem will not be that simple. As with any other problem domains, we need to scrutinize all the design considerations – not only each population’s characteristics (capabilities and limitations), but also the entire system, technological limitations, and task environments. To this end, the present paper explores challenges and opportunities of automated vehicles for multiple populations, including people with various difficulties/disabilities, older adults, and children. This paper brings up some controversial points and is expected to promote lively discussions at the conference.


Electric vehicles and wheelchair users

White box shaped vehicle with green trim, shown here with the lid style front door raisedGood to see designers thinking about customising for the independent travel of wheelchair users. The designers claim that you can wheel yourself into the vehicle and drive yourself without the need for assistance from others. Customisations to suit individuals are available. Because the vehicle is small and box like, the wheelchair user can park so that the ramp will lower directly onto the footpath. Nifty. This vehicle is available in the UK. We might have to wait for more electric vehicles to appear in Australia before this option is available here. See the website for dimensions and other information and more pictures. Perhaps driverless vehicles of the future for everyone might look something like this.