A Transport Research Laboratory (TRL) led project claims to have successfully demonstrated how teleoperated autonomous vehicles could, in the near future, benefit disabled and older drivers.
The GATEway project, located at the UK Smart Mobility Living Lab in Greenwich, is an £8m research initiative created last year to investigate the use, perception and acceptance of autonomous vehicles in the UK.
At the end of a fortnight of testing and using technology developed by GATEway partners Gobotix and O2, a wheelchair user was able to drive himself to his final destination before disembarking. The driver then parked the vehicle using 3G and 4G technology*.
The Gobotix software enables a driver to operate their vehicle via a computer or smartphone. The connectivity is provided by a machine-to-machine sim, while a video feed on the vehicle detects obstacles and adjusts speed accordingly.
Gobotix says that while automated vehicle technology has massive long-term potential, it is focusing on what can be done now to deliver more immediate benefits.
Dr Ben Davis, technical director, said: “Everybody is waiting for the arrival of fully automated vehicles, but there’s a lot that vehicle manufacturers can be doing already with existing technology to help improve accessibility and mobility for older and disabled drivers.
“Many modern cars can be adapted so that they are driveable by a remote pilot and what we’ve demonstrated as part of GATEway is proof of that.
“By offering a remote teleoperation service, we can remove common concerns around boarding and alighting. It’s about empowering those with reduced mobility to retain independence through the use of technology."
Toby Veall, disability consultant and the full time wheelchair user who took part in the demonstration, said: “It’s very difficult for able-bodied people to fully understand the challenges facing disabled drivers. One of the main problems is finding suitable parking, which ideally is a disabled space but is not always possible.
“The use of a simple app to remotely park the car would be warmly welcomed by myself and many others with mobility problems and help to remove parking anxieties and improve independence.”
*In situations when cellular coverage is not available (such as an underground car park) the user can also control the vehicle using an app on their own tablet device, connecting via in-car Wi-Fi.