Sticky problem for driverless cars

Front of a black car with soap suds and someone with a pink gloved hand is washing itThe revolutionary concept of calling up a driverless car on your phone is appealing to some, especially people who cannot drive. But before all this happens there are some details that need fixing. Big ideas such as better broadband so the vehicles can talk to each other is one thing, and getting regulations in place is another. But what about the finer details of the everyday? For example, can we rely on previous riders leaving the vehicle clean? Who will clean that sticky seat? Who is going to refuel or recharge the vehicle? How does vehicle maintenance happen? This is where innovative partnerships come into play. Avis in the US is partnering with Waymo to do their dirty work. Avis has the infrastructure for cleaning and maintaining vehicles, so it makes sense. What other partnerships will be needed I wonder? You can read more about this on the Co-Design website: The self-driving car revolution needs… rental car companies?  


Good example of a step free transport map

Bottom right hand corner of the tube map showing the legend of all the different level of accessThis isn’t something from Transport for London, it’s from a blog site, Step Free London. It shows what can be done with transport maps when users know that attention to detail is everything. The personal experience sets it apart from other maps. An access icon can mean so many things, and this is shown in the legend of the map. For example it could be either: Full step-free access; Step-free access via ramp; Step-free access towards one direction; Out-of-station interchange; and Separate entrance for each direction, plus other combinations of partial access. The blog site has good information for map designers. It also contains all the latest information about travelling by train in London. There are similar maps available in Australia, such as City of Sydney accessibility map. The Citymetric site shows two tube maps for Paris – one for the general public and another with all the stations taken out that are not accessible. Then you see what a map really looks like to a wheelchair user or pram pusher for that matter. 


Future Transport: The end of the car era?

Distant view across Sydney Harbour looking South. Probably taken from Tarongo ZooTwo related items in this post. Cameron Jewell’s article in The Fifth Estate looks at the NSW Government’s Future Transport Strategy, which has a goal of increasing shared public transport and reducing single occupant vehicles. It is also part of an idea for people to live in “30 minute cities” where jobs and services are within a short ride from where people live. Automated vehicles and drones are seen as part of the drive for sustainability as well. The title of the article is, “The end of the car’s reign? Will it help or hinder public transport?” But we have to make sure any new transport designs are accessible to all.

Front cover of the report with blue background and techno graphicsThe second item is a 65 page report:  from Sustainable Business Australia (SBA) is titled “Transporting the Future: A business perspective on future”. In the front of the report it says, “SBA, as part of the WBCSD, has begun to tackle the challenges of sustainable urban mobility, by taking a data-driven, multi-stakeholder approach that helps accelerate progress towards multimodal, inclusive and low-environmental impact mobility.” Lot of jargon there – totally inaccessible for most people. It basically means planning transport so that people can get around quickly and easily and not impact on the environment too much. And the typface is so small and pale it is not easy to read.  


Mobility and mobilising with public transport

Front view of a Queensland Rail train at a station. It says Ipswich on the LED displayMaking the transition from driving to using other transportation options can be difficult – not least of all because many options were not designed with older people in mind. Transport policies, equipment and systems have been focused on journeys to work, not the day to day needs of older people and others not in the workforce. Introduction to Senior Transportation considers the physical and cognitive limitations of older adult passengers, the challenges in meeting their needs, and the transportation methods that do and do not currently meet their needs. The chapters in this book cover transitioning from driving, strategies and tactics, volunteer driver programs, technology and transportation, and ageing policy and transport, among many other topics. 

Introduction to Senior Transportation: Enhancing Community Mobility and Transportation Services is by By Helen K. Kerschner, Nina M. Silverstein and is available from Routledge.  



Public transport and wheeled mobility

A woman is pushing a man in a wheelchair up a ramp into the train. The train guard looks on. Another woman in a wheelchair waits for her turn. A man with a stroller is also in the picture.Research on the real spatial requirements of wheeled mobility devices has been done several times in the past. But when it comes to developing standards to suit a wider user group, somehow those measurements get lost in translation. However, the world is moving on. The population is ageing (more mobility scooters) and people using wheelchairs of all sizes are able to get out and about more. Public transport has to keep up. To this end an interactive web tool has been developed to determine the dimensions of clear floor area to incorporate more users of wheeled mobility devices. The title of this important article explains the tool, Revisiting Clear Floor Area Requirements for Wheeled Mobility Device Users in Public Transportation. The article is not open source so needs institutional access (or purchase), but here is a section from the abstract:

“The web-based design tool is now available to practitioners who seek to accommodate a wider range of WhMD [wheeled mobility device] users than the minimum standards required by regulations. The design tool is also intended as a visual evidence base for regulatory activity and universal design practice with higher ambitions. The advent of driverless automated vehicles will increase the importance of accessibility and usability to accommodate the diversity of riders with disabilities. Clear floor space to enable independent ingress, interior circulation and egress among WhMD users will be a foremost concern. The transportation industry, standards developers, disability advocates, mobility device manufacturers and prescribers need to understand the limitations of current accessibility standards and work to address these limitations through updated vehicle design standards and policies. 



Older drivers want universal design

View through a car windscreen to a country road with one car in front.Technology to assist drivers is not always user tested on older people who are more likely to have a decline in cognition and perception. Developers who wanted to develop an smart phone app specifically to help older drivers soon found that they didn’t want a special or segregated application just for them. The developers eventually found that by applying universal design principles to their design, it was useful for drivers of all ages. After adopting UD principles in development they were able to change the name from Older Driver Support System to Road Coach. The article is a long technical road safety report from University of Minnesota, but the executive summary and conclusions provide most of the key detail. You can skim read the rest unless you are a road safety person. The title of the paper is Older Driver Support System (ODSS) Usability and Design Investigation.  


Google Maps en route for access

Picture showing the level access from the platform into the trainGoogle has officially introduced wheelchair-accessible transit routes in Google Maps. It will help people moving with wheels to get around more easily – assuming there is an easy option.  Similar ideas and apps have been developed elsewhere. However Google Maps already has such widespread use, any other apps will need to focus on niche conditions and areas. We might have to wait a little longer for the Google Maps app to include Australia, but they claim to be adding this feature world wide. Here is an excerpt from their blog on the official launch:

Google maps icon“Google Maps was built to help people navigate and explore the world, providing  directions, worldwide, to people traveling by car, bicycle or on foot. But in city centers, buses and trains are often the best way to get around, which presents a challenge for people who use wheelchairs or with other mobility needs. Information about which stations and routes are wheelchair friendly isn’t always readily available or easy to find. To make public transit work for everyone, today we’re introducing “wheelchair accessible” routes in transit navigation to make getting around easier for those with mobility needs.”  


Autonomous vehicles: will they be universally designed?

A small black and white pod shaped vehicleDriverless vehicles are being trialled across the world and that includes Australia. Developing regulations that keep up with technology is just one concern for policy makers. But what about users – will they get a say in the design of the technology? Autonomous vehicles will be a major mobility solution for those who are currently excluded from driving. This makes it essential to include them in the development of the technology, the interfaces with the technology and the vehicles themselves. For anyone interested in the progress of this topic, research by Amanatidis, Langdon and Clarkson is worth a look. Their paper, Inclusivity Consideration for Fully Autonomous Vehicle User Interfaces reports on their preliminary work. The paper was presented at the annual Cambridge Workshop on Universal Access and Assistive Technology CWUAAT 2018. Published by SpringerLink it requires institutional access or you can purchase. 

Abstract: Autonomous vehicles could become an important part of the mobility solution for members of society previously excluded from driving. This paper presents the results of an interview study on users’ needs and expectations of fully autonomous vehicles, and specifically on the inclusivity considerations that emerged. Six drivers and two individuals that are currently excluded from driving participated in this study. The main finding was that conventional multimodal interfaces would indeed enable a broader range of users to operate these vehicles. However, fundamental considerations such as the accessibility of displays and easy ingress/egress were of equal importance. We hope the emerging recommendations would form part of an inclusive set of user requirements to be taken into account by industry and academia when designing fully autonomous vehicle user interfaces. 

The picture is a prototype by RDM Group. 


Smart pedestrians for smart cities?

A wide pedestrian crossing covering four lanes of trafficePedestrians who can’t see or can’t reach the pedestrian control button at traffic lights might not need to worry any more. In Edinburgh the problem has been solved with an app. No special cards (as in Hong Kong) needed to activate the pedestrian signal. And no special adaptations to the signal system either. The BBC Youtube video with captions explains how. The technology can also be used for finding the reception desk in large buildings with large open spaces. No doubt there will be other applications yet to be thought of.

Note: In the UK, people with disability prefer to be called “disabled people”.


A Wheelie Good App

Three manual wheelchair users with their phonesGetting around a university campus is not always the easiest task for new visitors or students. For wheelchair users the task is all the more difficult usually due to uneven topography – steep slopes and lots of steps or long ramps. The University of Wollongong is piloting an App to help navigate the campus, which can then be applied to other places. Using UOW’s Wollongong campus as a pilot study, Briometrix will translate wheelchair-user-generated data into navigation routes on its Navability App, which will show the best routes for wheelchair users based on their relative ability to propel a wheelchair. Each time a user logs-on and makes a journey, the collected data will update the app ensure it reflects any changes in the built environment. Combining the location-based technology used in Google Maps and exercise monitors with new information specific to a wheelchair experience, the project has the potential to create a new understanding of life on campus and the wider world. It will be interesting to see how this evolves.