ADVANCE TO SEMI FINALIST ROUND OF USDOT INCLUSIVE DESIGN CHALLENGE
Team A4 to develop independent wheelchair loading and passenger securement system for AV shuttles
ANN ARBOR, Mich. – The US Department of Transportation (USDOT) announced that a coalition of Ann Arbor-based mobility technology leaders were awarded $300,000 and selected as one of only 10 semifinalists to advance to the final round in the inaugural Inclusive Design Challenge.
May Mobility, a pioneer in autonomous vehicle (AV) technology, and the University of Michigan Transportation Research Institute (UMTRI), a leading research institution for accessibility in mobility, will lead the Ann Arbor Automated Accessibility team (Team A4) in designing and deploying an autonomous shuttle with an independent wheelchair loading and passenger securement system.
Team A4 also includes United Spinal, Ann Arbor Center for Independent Living, Feonix-Mobility Rising, and Braunability.
“We believe that public mobility systems must address challenges around equity and access to transportation,” said Edwin Olson, co-founder and CEO of May Mobility. “Working with riders, advocacy groups, the USDOT, and mobility researchers will help us better meet the needs of communities.”
UMTRI has previously worked on universal designs for wheelchair docking and automated wheelchair tie downs and will facilitate research, development, and user testing for the challenge. May Mobility plans to use these devices in accessible autonomous shuttles during future public deployments, a first in the industry.
“We are excited about the opportunity to take the research we’ve been doing in the lab and move forward with field evaluations to demonstrate how this approach can improve independence for people who use wheelchairs, while still prioritizing safety,” said Kathleen Klinich, Associate Director of UMTRI and principal investigator of the current project to develop prototype hardware elements that would allow passengers to dock their wheelchairs and don their seatbelts independently.
Currently, many wheelchair users rely on attendants in public transportation or assistance in their own vehicles for wheelchair securement. Automated loading and securement of wheelchairs in self-driving vehicles will be essential to fully realizing the promise of autonomous mobility for everyone.
The USDOT launched the Inclusive Design Challenge with a total $5,000,000 prize pool to fund innovative design solutions to enable people with physical, sensory, and cognitive disabilities to use automated vehicles to access jobs, healthcare, and other critical destinations. The May Mobility and UMTRI team, along with the nine other semifinalists, will participate in design charrettes this summer, with continued research and development throughout the year, and final awards made in summer 2022.
The project will also advance accessible transportation technologies beyond this use case. The docking and tiedown technologies are being tested on a Toyota Sienna, ensuring that the technologies developed as part of the Inclusive Design Challenge will be applicable to a wide variety of vehicles, from personally-owned adaptive vehicles to shared, autonomous shuttles.
May Mobility and UMTRI are pleased to be working on this project with BraunAbility, an industry leader that converts vehicles for use by occupants seated in wheelchairs, and with several key partners who represent the disability community. United Spinal, a national 501(c) (3) nonprofit membership organization dedicated to enhancing the quality of life of all people living with spinal cord injuries and disorders, and the Ann Arbor Center for Independent Living (AACIL), a dynamic and vibrant community enrichment, learning, and advocacy center providing classes, individualized counseling, programming, and resources to improve the quality of your life as someone with a disability or health condition, will provide input and feedback on wheelchair accessibility through feedback sessions and COVID-safe testing of the technology solution. Feonix – Mobility Rising, a 501(c)3 non-profit organization dedicated to enhancing mobility options for underserved communities, will facilitate important links to feedback from paratransit drivers.