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.

The blind and low vision community, people with intellectual disability and older people are yet to be considered. These groups are at risk of being excluded from AV technologies. The interaction between vehicles and infrastructure is another area of research that’s needed.

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 (PwDs) by developing design principles for accessible autonomous vehicles (AAVs).

PwDs experience cumulative disadvantage including lack of mobility, social inclusion, and violation of human rights due to barriers in transportation. AAVs can potentially provide accessible transport options, leading to improved access to medical care, employment, social inclusion, and safety.

The data review identifies key information for accessible AVs. These include wheeled mobility user anthropometric percentiles, clear floor space requirements, recommended ramp angles, interior layout configurations, and door dimensions. 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. The review concludes by discussing clusters of information identified, gaps in data and opportunities for further research.

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. One works for KPMG and the other for a digital design agency. 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.

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