Automated vehicles: Are we there yet?

Side of an automated vehicle is cut away to show four seats in pairs facing each other.
Image courtesy ABC news.

Australia is lagging behind the rest of the world with electric and automated vehicles, but this isn’t stopping development. Until now, automated vehicle design has focused around a version of the average driver. Automation will change all that. 

Accessibility as well as safety and fuel efficiency can now be included in designs. But at what point should users be involved in contributing to design?  This question is discussed in Towards Life-Long Mobility: Accessible Transportation with Automation

The introduction of autonomous vehicles will happen in five stages. The first stage is basic automation such as breaking, parking and controlling speed. The final stage is where there are no controls as we know them. No steering wheel, brake lever or pedals. Stages 2-4 have intermediate degrees of automation until stage 5 is reached. One of the major barriers to implementation is integrating with existing infrastructure. This means some form of onboard human control, for now at, at least. 

The paper discusses people with disability or difficulties, older adults, and children. Vehicles designed to “themes” would cater for individual needs. An office theme, an entertainment theme, or an adaptable theme to suit specific disabilities. In this case, it could be by offering all information in the most suitable mode, or adapting ergonomics to suit easy operation.  ABC News also has a 2017 article discussing some of the issues.


A related 2021 article discusses the role of autonomous vehicle ridesharing for non-drivers. Using a participatory approach, the research group checked out the needs of people with disability. They ended up with a list of of user needs that will go into prototypes. It’s not just about the vehicle – it’s about the system for booking and ridesharing. That included web design, vehicle design and how people interact with all of that. 

You will need institutional access to read An Accessible Autonomous Vehicle Ridesharing Ecosystem. But you can see the abstract in the link.

The 2021 Australian Driverless Vehicle Summit went virtual. It was an opportunity to update around 250 delegates on what Australia is doing. The Summit featured examples of autonomous trucks in mining sites, and in defence and freight industries. Clearly there is a lot going on in the background in this field. 

To find out what Transport for NSW is doing on this topic – go to their dedicated website page on connected and automated vehicles.

Artificial Intelligence will be key. But it needs to be more intelligent than some of the typed autocorrections we see today. 

Can you see 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. However, they can give confidence that you have been detected because the eyes follow you as you cross the pedestrian crossing.

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. 

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