Coventry-based autonomous vehicle specialist Aurrigo is starting a world-first trial involving blind veterans to research how driverless pods can help solve first and last mile transport challenges.
The company is working with Blind Veterans UK to develop a six-month programme of testing aimed at learning from real-life experiences to improve the technology.
This is the first time Aurrigo has ever conducted an extended trial with veterans or people with a disability and the company hopes the pods could provide a long-term solution to improve the independence of people that have mobility issues.
“Using information taken from our discussions with Guide Dogs and previous work with people with disabilities, we have made the pods suitable for people with vision impairments, including improved lighting and prominent colours on grab rails and seats,” explained Miles Garner, Sales and Marketing Director for Aurrigo.
“This trial is intended to see how the pods operate in a real-life environment and how veterans interact with them. We want to know about all the good things and we also want to know about things that need to be better – this should inform the next evolution of the pod and the changes/additions we may need to incorporate into the design.
“Having feedback from Blind Veterans UK and their members taking part will be a massive boost in improving our pods and making them more user-friendly for people with disabilities. This has never been done in the world before and we are delighted that Blind Veterans UK has helped make it happen.”
One area this study will explore is the importance of voice activated controls, something Aurrigo piloted with IBM Watson at the recent Consumer Electronics Show (CES) in Las Vegas.
The company’s four-seat Pod travels at a maximum speed of 15mph off road and will run around the most popular parts of the Blind Veterans UK training and rehabilitation centre in Ovingdean, near Brighton, including the main entrance, the memorial bench, chapel and activity barn.
The pod, which has been named after the founder of Blind Veterans UK Sir Arthur Pearson, was developed with the consultation of sight loss charity, Guide Dogs, and has been designed to best suit the needs of people who are blind or vision impaired.
However, this trial will be the first time those with a vision impairment will be trialling the pods themselves and with the pods providing a real service.
Chief Executive of Blind Veterans UK, Major General (Rtd) Nick Caplin CB said, “So many of the blind veterans we support say that not being able to drive is one of the most significant things that hits you when you lose your sight. It’s another way of losing independence and can make people feel more isolated.
“Anything we can do to assist and feedback on this new technology will hopefully benefit the lives of our veterans and the wider disabled community in the years to come.”
A special session concentrating on the issues of inclusive mobility featuring discussions on transport for the blind, wheelchair users and elderly is part of Traffex 2019 at Birmingham’s NEC from 2-4 April. Sign up at www.traffex.com.