Automated vehicles: Are we there yet?

Side of an autonomous vehicle is cut away to show four seats in pairs facing each other.Australia is lagging behind the rest of the world with electric and automated vehicles, but this isn’t stopping development. Until now, vehicle design has focused around a version of the average driver. That means some people are left out, such as tall and short people. Automation will change all that. 

Apart from aspects such as safety and fuel efficiency, people previously excluded from driving a car can now be included in designs. But at what point should they be involved in contributing to design?  A conference paper discusses this question.

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. In practical terms, vehicles could be designed to “themes” which suit user individual needs. An office theme, an entertainment theme, or an adaptable theme to suit particular disabilities. In this case, it could be by offering all information in the most suitable mode, or adapting ergonomics to suit easy operation. 

The title of the article is Towards Life-Long Mobility: Accessible Transportation with Automation. It was published in 2016, and no doubt further research has been carried out. However, this is a good introduction to the topic. ABC News also has a 2017 article discussing some of the issues.

Abstract: Despite the prevalent discussions on automated vehicles, little research has been conducted with a focus 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. As with any other problem domains, 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. To this end, the present paper explores challenges and opportunities of automated vehicles for multiple populations, including people with various difficulties/disabilities, older adults, and children.

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

Image courtesy ABC news.