Autonomous vehicles, independence and universal design

Three children stand in front of a small driverless bus.New cars have automated features, but they are not yet driverless, that is, driven by computers. The mining and agriculture industries already use fully autonomous vehicles. So we have the technology. Driverless cars will be about passengers – all passengers. However, we need to solve roadway issues before this technology can be rolled out for everyday use. As we glimpse a future where anyone can utilise a car, we need to make sure the designs work for everyone. Autonomous vehicles (AV) can bring independence with universal design. 

The Australian and New Zealand Driverless Vehicle Initiative (ADVI) has produced a short paper explaining the key issues and recommendations. It covers:

      • Existing Barriers to Transportation
      • Benefits of AV Transportation
      • Increased Economic Opportunities
      • Limitations and Concerns of Autonomous Vehicles
      • Gap Analysis for People with A Disability Table
      • Pilots of Autonomous Vehicles with Aging Communities

The title of the paper is, The road to independence: Inclusive design of autonomous vehicles. The scope of transport solutions includes private, shared, business and public transport options.


1. As part of a Roadmap for autonomous vehicles, Australian governments and other stakeholders should ensure that the development of autonomous vehicle technologies consider the needs of the disabled.
Program Pilots
2. Governments at all levels should prioritise facilitating autonomous vehicle pilots for the disabled, including those integrating other allied and emerging technologies.
3. Australian testing facilities / proving grounds for autonomous vehicles should include testing of technologies to assist the disabled with regards to autonomous vehicles.
4. By successfully adopting the concept of universal design through co-design, it is forecast that there could be a growth in the vehicle market of up to 17% if all people living with a disability could access private transportation.


In order to ensure that needs of the people with a disability are understood and technology solutions are developed to address these needs, planning, research and pilot programs need to be undertaken, otherwise the advent of AVs could create new obstacles for people with a disability.

Achieving genuine accessibility for the disabled may require the integration of AVs with other emerging technologies, to enable AVs to understand spoken instructions, observe nearby surroundings and communicate with people.

Whether this eventuates however, will largely depend on how early and to what extent key stakeholders such as vehicle manufacturers, autonomous driving systems developers, infrastructure owners and planning guidelines adopt inclusive design processes and work together to provide design solutions that optimize the end-to-end user journey.

This paper explores how Universal Design of AVs should be considered in Australia, including the benefits it will deliver to society, the economic opportunities that it creates for not only industry but for those living with a disability, and the pathway to achieving this. Universal design provides a process for creating an inclusive society and is similar to other approaches such as inclusive design, human-centred design and design for diversity. Co-design is another important aspect, where designs are created with people with disabilities to ensure that designs are usable and appropriately meet user needs.

The scope of transport solutions covered by this paper includes private, shared, business and public transport options.

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 accessibility and other issues which are discussed in two papers.

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 report from Intelligent Transport Systems discusses these issues in a matter of fact way. Policy makers and vehicle designers need to think across all these issues.

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

A yellow automated vehicle is parked by the footpath.What do people really think about autonomous vehicles? That’s a question a group at Curtin University wanted to know. Their survey found two main types of response: one cognitive and one emotional. Overall there is a general acceptance of autonomous vehicles – the cognitive response. However, concerns were expressed over safety, trust and control – the emotional responses.

The authors conclude that the move to autonomous vehicles will provide substantial benefits for society. However, there is a need to make sure the community is receptive to this technological change to ensure timely adoption. Negative views held by a few tended to be based on emotional factors. The key point in this qualitative study is that assumed resistance factors, such as those relating to ethics, hacking and liability, are not top of mind in the community. This means education and information can be better tailored with this information in mind. 

The title of the article is, Dimensions of attitudes to autonomous vehicles.  Published in Urban, Planning and Transport Research, it is open access.

Abstract: For the benefits of autonomous vehicles (AVs) to be optimized, the fleet conversion process needs to be efficient and timely. This study explored public attitudes to AVs to inform strategies to increase receptivity to the wide-scale use of AVs. A national online survey was administered to a sample of 1,624 Australians aged 16+ years. The survey featured open-ended questions that scoped respondents’ perceptions of AVs. A grounded, thematic analysis identified two primary dimensions in the data: response valence (how positive or negative the comments were about the advent of AVs) and response type (the extent to which the comments reflected a cognitive or emotional response). This resulted in a dimensional analysis featuring four quadrants that captured the topics that were most frequently raised spontaneously by respondents. The quadrant characterized by comments that were positive/neutral and cognitive in nature was the most substantial, indicating general acceptance. Where concerns were expressed, they typically related to perceived safety, trust, and control issues, and tended to be more emotional in nature. The results highlight the importance of providing the public with concrete information about AVs to address fear levels and to resolve trust and control issues.


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. At the 2018 UD Conference Amy Child from Arup gave an entertaining presentation on this topic 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?