May Mobility continues to drive AV accessibility with update on Inclusive Design Challenge

On January 24th, May Mobility presented in USDOT’s virtual workshops alongside UMTRI for the Inclusive Design Challenge. Here’s an update on how our project is going and how you can watch a recording of the workshop.

 

We believe that autonomous travel must be accessible – not sometime in the future, but today. But we’re still thinking about what an even more accessible autonomous future looks like, especially when communities are ready for fully driverless vehicles.

 

Back in 2020, we were selected in a competitive process to participate in the U.S. Department of Transportation’s (USDOT) Inclusive Design Challenge, working on a project called Independent Safety for Wheelchair Users in AVs. May’s project team includes the University of Michigan Transportation Research Institute (UMTRI), United Spinal Association, BraunAbility, Feonix Mobility Rising, and the Ann Arbor Center for Independent Living (AACIL), which delivered an update in the virtual workshop series on January 24th

 

What do we mean by independent safety for wheelchair users? The cornerstone of the project is an integrated wheelchair seating station, and an independent wheelchair docking station and automated belt donning system. To this end, UMTRI is iterating previous prototypes of the Universal Docking Interface Geometry, or UDIG.

Three individuals stand inside a vehicle inspecting the wheelchair docking system.

Researchers and a focus group of experienced paratransit drivers test out the integrated wheelchair seating station.

The UDIG is a common geometry for connecting wheelchairs to vehicles, similar to what you would see with a truck-trailer hitch. When in place, the UDIG allows a wheelchair with compatible attachments to dock in any vehicle with appropriate anchors.

 

This isn’t a new idea: the concept has been around for 20 years. This project is a necessary next step that looks at what questions need to be asked and answered when the UDIG is implemented in an electric and autonomous vehicle. With the battery and technology, is there a tighter space to fit the UDIG? What needs to be moved around? What can the system replicate if an attendant is not present? 

 

We were able to answer some of these questions with a recent focus group with experienced paratransit drivers. Drivers from transit agencies in Minnesota, Nevada, and Michigan traveled to our office in Ann Arbor to get an overview of progress so far, a live demonstration, and to provide feedback. Their perspective will be extremely helpful as we go into full volunteer testing with wheelchair users, which will be the most beneficial part of stage two for our team.

Four individuals observe a vehicle's wheelchair onboarding ramp.

Focus group attendees observe the vehicle’s wheelchair onboarding ramp.

For the next few months, UMTRI researchers will evaluate usability and on-road comfort by working with up to 25 wheelchair users who will try out the UDIG system and give detailed feedback. After gathering this feedback, the team will adjust the solution to make it even better than before.

 

Work on projects like the Inclusive Design Challenge and with partners like UMTRI, United Spinal, and others helps us continue to unearth how AVs can bring the most value to communities.

 

To see the Inclusive Design Challenge team overviews of progress so far, you can watch the virtual workshop recording here using passcode N02C&CjM.