UK Insight project developing autonomous Pods for visually impaired users


The UK Insight project has been demonstrating its autonomous Pods this week (May 29 -June 2), which are being developed to make travel easier, particularly for visually impaired people.

The Insight project will see a consortium transform Heathrow Airport’s Ultra-Pods into fully-autonomous vehicles that are designed to help plug the gap for short low-speed ‘first-mile/ last-mile’ journeys, with the Pods being ideally suited to moving people and luggage between local railway stations, hospitals and car parks.

The Pods are equipped with sophisticated 3D-imaging systems and sensors that enable them to navigate through pedestrian areas, while ensuring the safety of passengers, pedestrians, road users, and other vehicles. Inclusivity is a key feature of the Insight Pod, which includes several innovative features specifically designed to support and provide mobility for visually impaired members of society.

Advanced indoor and outdoor positioning systems will allow visually impaired users to know their exact locations using a smartphone app, and will link to a cloud-based system that will allow nearby vehicles to be virtually requested or ‘hailed’. One of the Pods has been on display at the Thinktank Science Garden in Birmingham to allow members of the public, including visually impaired users, to examine the Pod, quiz experts behind the project, and provide valuable feedback to aid the Pod’s future developments.

The event is being hosted by the Insight project team, comprising: Birmingham City University (BCU), Heathrow Enterprises, Fusion Processing, Westfield Sportscars, and Conigital.

Researchers at BCU will work alongside industry experts and Birmingham City Council to compile detailed safety cases for the use of the Pods, and run trials in increasing complexity, leading to a trial with members of the public, including blind or visually impaired citizens in pedestrianized areas.

“It is great that we can give blind and visually impaired groups the chance to offer their feedback on the Pods, which will be key to fine tuning them and making sure they meet the needs of users who may have difficulty travelling independently in busy city environments,” noted Dr Umar Daraz, director of the Institute of Sustainable Futures at BCU.

“This project is a great example of bringing a range of public and private partners together to test what can be done in the fast-moving world of autonomous vehicles, and we hope people will find out what we are doing and importantly influence the Pods’ future development.

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Tom has edited Traffic Technology International (TTi) magazine and its Traffic Technology Today website since May 2014. During his time at the title, he has interviewed some of the top transportation chiefs at public agencies around the world as well as CEOs of leading multinationals and ground-breaking start-ups. Tom's earlier career saw him working on some the UK's leading consumer magazine titles. He has a law degree from the London School of Economics (LSE).