Driverless Cars and Accessibility

A small black and white pod shaped vehicleDriverless cars will be about passengers not drivers. Although a subtle difference, it focuses thought on users as passengers rather than drivers. And this is important because there will be more diversity of users than there are currently drivers. But this raises other issues.

When it comes to assistance it is usually the driver that helps riders with disabilities with getting in and out, and pointing them in the right direction. An article from Intelligent Transport Systems discusses these issues and more in a matter of fact way. Policy makers and vehicle designers need to think across all these issues.

“A “fully accessible” and “fully automated” vehicle must address challenges beyond the purview of the vehicle, extending into transportation infrastructure. For instance, for individuals with disabilities to – in practice – independently utilize an autonomous vehicle, problems associated with door-to-door wayfinding, signage, and street-side pick-up/drop-off must also be dealt with. For those who face physical barriers, such as those with mobility or vision impairments, wayfinding around obstacles in the built environment to rendezvous with vehicles or to arrive to at transit/taxi stops will still be a

The report concluded that because of the magnitude of this demand, there is a good case for avoiding complicated and expensive retrofitting for accessibility.

Look at me!

An orange automated vehicle has eyes that appear to be looking at a pedestrianWorried that a driverless car won’t see or detect you? With a driver you can check to see if they are looking your way, but if there is no driver, that can be a worry. Autonomous vehicles are posing many problems for designers who are grappling with most of them quite successfully. So for this problem Jaguar has come up with a car with googly eyes. The “eyes” don’t “see” you, but it can give confidence that you have been detected because the eyes follow you as you cross the pedestrian crossing. I should think that once we get used to automated vehicles, eventually eyes will be phased out. Amy Child from Arup gave an entertaining presentation on this and other aspects of the move to driverless cars, including the googly eyes. The transcript of Amy’s keynote presentation can be downloaded in Word. 

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?