A Coventry-based autonomous vehicle specialist is kick-starting a ‘world first’ trial to deliver improved independence for people with health conditions and disabilities.
Aurrigo, which employs 85 people across its Advanced Engineering Centre in the West Midlands and offices in the US, Canada and Australia, is conducting the driverless pods 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 start in April and expects to achieve valuable real-life experiences it can use to improve the technology going forward.
This is the first time Aurrigo has ever conducted an extended trial with veterans or people with a disability and it is hoped that the pods could provide a long-term solution to improve the independence of people that have mobility issues.
“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.
“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.
“Having feedback from Blind Veterans UK and their members taking part will be a massive boost in improving our pods and making them more user-friendly for people with disabilities. This has never been done in the world before and we are delighted that Blind Veterans UK has helped make it happen.”
One area this study will explore is the importance of voice activated controls, something Aurrigo piloted with IBM Watson at the recent Consumer Electronics Show 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.
Chief Executive of Blind Veterans UK, Major General Nick Caplin CB 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, which is leading the world when it comes to ‘first and last mile’ self-driving transport solutions.
It has over 25 years’ experience in providing automotive technology and transport solutions, designing and developing autonomous vehicles from the ground up using the company’s in-house autonomous software platform.
Experts from the Coventry-based company will be spending time training members of the Blind Veterans UK transport team to assist veterans to successfully complete the trial.