Coventry, UK-based self-driving vehicle developer Aurrigo is kick-starting a ‘world first’ trial showcasing how autonomous technology can deliver improved mobility and independence for people with health conditions and disabilities.
The autonomous vehicle division of RDM Group, Aurrigo is conducting the driverless pods trial involving blind veterans in Brighton as part of an exercise to explore possible first- and last-mile transportation solutions. The company has joined forces with Blind Veterans UK, formerly the St Dunstan’s charity, to develop a six-month program of testing that will start in April and expects to achieve valuable real-life experiences it can use to improve the technology going forward. This is the first time Aurrigo has conducted an extended trial with veterans or people with a disability and it is hoped that the pods could provide a long-term solution to improve the independence of people that have mobility issues.
One area the study will explore is the importance of voice activated controls, which Aurrigo recently demonstrated with IBM Watson at the Consumer Electronics Show (CES) in Las Vegas. The company’s four-seat Pod travels at a maximum speed of 15mph (24km/h) off-road and will run around the most popular parts of the Blind Veterans UK training and rehabilitation center in Ovingdean, near Brighton, including the main entrance, the memorial bench, chapel and activity barn. Named after the charity’s founder, Sir Arthur Pearson, the pod 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 visually impaired. However, this trial will be the first time those with a vision impairment will be trialing the pods themselves and with the pods providing a real service.
“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 colors 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 they are helping to make it happen.”
Blind Veterans UK’s chief executive, Major General (Rtd) Nick Caplin, 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.”