Designing autonomous vehicles to accommodate vision-impaired people

Plenty of people are at least a bit nervous about the rapid approach of autonomous vehicles (AVs). The idea of a car driving the driver–instead of the other way around–can be unsettling.
People with vision impairments are even more likely to be anxious about this new form of transportation.

That is the subject Robin Brewer, assistant professor and presidential postdoctoral fellow at the University of Michigan School of Information, will explore in her study, “Supporting People with Vision Impairments in Automated Vehicles.” 

Brewer received a $168,337 grant for the project from the Center for Connected and Automated Transportation, located at U-M’s Transportation Research Institute.

The main goal of the study, Brewer says, is to provide recommendations to AV manufacturers and suppliers on designing vehicles and interactive systems that will mitigate barriers people with vision impairments face.

“Often accessibility is an afterthought. We’re at a unique time in autonomous vehicle research where accessibility can be considered early in the design process.”

Brewer and her team will gain insight on these barriers by interviewing the vision-impaired about their adoption and use of ridesharing services, and observing this use. The team also will use focus groups to investigate the social receptiveness of AVs by both sighted people and the vision-impaired.

Brewer says she was inspired to conduct the study by a previous project that involved interviewing older adults with vision impairments.

“Driving is a key source of independence and this ‘loss’ was mentioned often by these adults. Upon further investigation, I discovered these people had a lot to say about poor transportation and Paratransit – which offers special transportation for the disabled – where they live. Autonomous vehicles can help solve that.”

She added that most related research has centered on the use of public transportation by the vision-impaired. Just one study has examined the opinions vision-impaired people have about AVs.

“There hasn’t been any research centered on design and what an accessible autonomous vehicle would be like in practice,” she says.

by Sheryl James, UMSI Public Relations Specialist

Posted March 13, 2018