Autonomous technology is being used in a world first trial to deliver improved mobility and independence for people with health conditions and disabilities.
Coventry-based Aurrigo is conducting the driverless pods trial as part of an exercise to explore possible ‘first and last mile’ transport solutions. To this end, the company has joined forces with Blind Veterans UK to develop a six-month programme of testing in that will start in April.
“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,” said 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.”
One area this study will explore is the importance of voice activated controls, a function Aurrigo piloted in January, 2019 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 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.
Major General (Rtd) Nick Caplin CB, chief executive of Blind Veterans UK, 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.”
Aurrigo is the autonomous vehicle division of RDM Group. Experts from the company will be spending time training members of the Blind Veterans UK transport team to assist veterans to complete the trial.