On the road with autonomous vehicles

A yellow autonomous vehicle on the road. It is box shaped with large windows and small wheels.What will the future of transport look like post COVID-19 pandemic and what will it mean for autonomous vehicles? For people who don’t or can’t drive, autonomous vehicles seem a wonderful invention. But will the designs and technology be inclusive?  

It’s not that no-one is thinking about access and inclusion – they are. But it’s not all about the technology. Some of the problems are related to the way vehicles connect with the built environment. Wheelchair accessible features, such as a ramp, can be rendered unsafe on steep inclines. If the wheelchair is not locked down, bumps in the road could cause the chair to tip or fall. 

Some riders will need specific assistive technologies for eye tracking, gesture recognition, and voice control. These would give people with tactile, mobility, and hearing impairments a sense of control without the need to make physical contact. Other practical challenges are around pick up and drop-off, and loading and unloading groceries. Human assistance will still be needed at certain points of the journey for some people. 

These issues and others are discussed in an article, Autonomous vehicles should benefit those with disabilities, but progress remains slow.

Related articles

For a more academic study and design details see, Accessible Personal Transportation for People with Disabilities Using Autonomous Vehicles. They include the principles of universal design in the text and conclude with a list of recommendations. 

The motoring body, NRMA, predicted in 2017 that autonomous vehicles will be rolling out in significant numbers by 2020. Their report on the Future of Car Ownership shows the step by step progress. You can also get a summary of the report in an infographic

UTT: A Conceptual Model to Guide the Universal Design of Autonomous Vehicles requires institutional access for a free read.

Abstract:  Autonomous vehicles (AVs) are closer to becoming a reality in changing the landscape of commercial and personal transportation. The launch of these vehicles come with the promise of improved road safety, reduced traffic fatalities, and enhanced mobility. However, there are questions as to whether the design of AVs will meet the needs of everyone, including people with disabilities and older adults. We argue that there exists no conceptual model that guides the inclusive design of autonomous vehicles to benefit all intended users. This paper proposes such a model, called the User Transportation-Activity Technology (UTT) model, which supports the inclusive design of AVs. We present a review of current models of assistive technology design and their drawbacks followed by an introduction of the UTT model and its application in AV design. This paper may benefit researchers, designers, and developers of autonomous vehicles interested in addressing accessible design issues in such vehicles.