Accessible autonomous vehicles

What factors should be considered when designing accessible autonomous vehicles? A collaborative effort by academics and policy makers found some answers. They looked at the data on people with disability to come up with some practical information.

Cumulative disadvantage faced by people with disability affects their physical, financial, health and wellbeing. One particular challenge is easy access to transportation.

Image of a blue autonomous vehicle on a roadway. The passenger seats are empty.

Academics from the Queensland University of Technology and staff at the Queensland Department of Transport and Main Roads have embarked on a long term project. The first phase is a data review and surveys with disability user groups. The second stage will involve detailed benchmarking of vehicle designs. A vehicle prototype will be developed in the third stage.

Numerical data

Articles relating to human participants gave specific recommendations for the physical measures of a person’s size and functional capabilities (anthropometrics). This information is essential for informing the design of vehicles. The information includes:

  • wheeled mobility percentiles
  • clear floor space requirements
  • recommended ramp angles
  • interior layout configurations
  • door dimensions and placement
  • ceiling heights
Image of a blue autonomous vehicle on a roadway. The passenger seats are empty.

The authors note that this particular study focused on mobility users and explored user preferences for interior layout and configurations. Updating Australian standards and design guidelines is another task to undertake.

A conference paper reports on the first stages of the research project. It’s titled, On the Road to Enhancing Transportation Access for People with Disabilities: A Data Review of Accessible Autonomous Vehicles Research.

From the abstract

The overall study focuses on improving transportation and mobility access for people with disabilities. AAVs can potentially provide accessible transport options, leading to improved access to medical care, employment, social inclusion, and safety.

The data review identifies key design information for accessible AVs. However, there is a need for more co-design prototyping, analysis of standards, and current design best practices. This review provides a comprehensive set of design principles for a AVs that caters to the diverse needs of PwDs.

Technology, transportation and inclusion

One fifth of all car journeys in the UK are taken by people with disability, and one third of those are taken as a passenger. So, connected and autonomous vehicles (CAVs) provide a great opportunity to create independent travel.

While CAVs are good in theory, there are many pitfalls in making them fully accessible. This is where policy and regulations have a strong role to play.

View through a car windscreen to a country road with one car in front.

A 2020 article on the Open Inclusion website has a podcast and a video of two transportation specialists. They discuss the amount of change going on in the transportation industry. This is good in terms of being able to provide real time data on services, and other information such as station platform lifts being out of order. Electrification and automation are the other major changes, and opportunities for the private sector to provide services.

There is more useful information on this website on practical aspects of inclusion for people with disability: smart cities, inclusive travel, and universal design. It includes a link to the autonomous shuttle bus in an aged care village in Canberra. 

Accessible vehicles for all

A paper from the 11th International Congress on Transportation Research addresses the research gaps for accessible autonomous vehicles. The conclusions list the gaps, but in the end a universal design approach (co-design) will solve them all. Indeed, the researchers recommend including people with disability and older people in design processes.

The title of the paper is Accessibility of Persons with Reduced Mobility: the Age of Autonomous Vehicles and Accessible EU.

Lifelong mobility with automation

cars on a two lane highway. Lifelong mobility with automation offers great change.

The arrival of the self-driving 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.

From the abstract

Little research has been conducted 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. 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. This paper explores challenges and opportunities of automated vehicles for multiple populations, including people with various difficulties/disabilities, older adults, and children.

Electric vehicles and wheelchair users

White box shaped vehicle with green trim, shown here with the lid style front door raised to take a wheelchair.

Good 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.

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. 

Transport, Mobility and Society

Birds eye view of a wide pedestrian crossing with lots of people on it

The Centre for Transport and Society has a mission to understand the interactions between mobility, lifestyles and society. This includes equity in transport and mobility.

Use the search facility to find projects and papers.

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