According to the WHO, it is estimated that 217 million people have moderate to severe vision impairment, and 36 million are registered as blind. Autonomous vehicles could offer people with vision impairment an alternative and safer route to travel.
The UK law requires that all licensed drivers must meet certain eyesight requirements in order to drive.
But for the many millions of people worldwide who are blind or have severely impaired vision, their day-to-day life remains restricted by the inability to drive or travel around easily.
“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,” said Nick Caplin, chief executive of Blind Veterans UK, Major General (Rtd).
Autonomous technology could offer independence
A Coventry-based autonomous vehicle manufacturer has today carried out a world first trial showcasing how autonomous technology can deliver improved mobility and independence for people with health conditions and disabilities.
Aurrigo is conducting the driverless trial involving blind veterans in Brighton as part of an exercise to explore possible ‘first and last mile’ transport solutions.
The company has joined forces with Blind Veterans UK to develop a six-month programme of testing that will commence in April and expects to achieve valuable real-life experiences it can use to improve the technology.
Technology to improve lives
Technology is increasingly being used to enhance and even save people’s lives; from artificial intelligence being deployed across the NHS to improve the early diagnosis of heart disease and lung cancer, to investment in micro-robotics, to 3D printed bone implants offering more durable components for knee and hip replacement surgeries.
However, this is the first example of autonomous vehicles aiding disabled people.
More typically autonomous vehicles are being tested to improve general road safety; connected sensors on vehicles should be able to scan surrounding environments and react accordingly, with no human error.
It is hoped that the Aurrigo pods could provide a long-term solution to improve the independence of people that have mobility issues. One important area this study will also explore is the importance of voice activated controls.
“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.
He added: “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.”
“Not being able to drive is one of the most significant things that hits you when you lose your sight”
The company’s four-seat pod travels at a maximum speed of 15mph off road and will travel around the Blind Veterans UK training and rehabilitation centre in Ovingdean, near Brighton.
Caplin added that anything the organisation can do to “assist and feedback” on the technology to “benefit the lives of our veterans and the wider disabled community in the years to come” will be provided.
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 vision impaired.
However, this trial marks the first time those with a vision impairment will be testing the pods themselves.