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Imagining the needs of users of connected & autonomous vehicles

26th January 2017

Clare is 84 years old and lives in sheltered accommodation. She has no children, but her niece lives 10 miles away and visits when she can. Clare has emphysema so she can’t walk far, and she also uses a hearing aid. She loves tending her small garden and visiting the garden centre is her most cherished outing, but as she used to work locally she has never driven.

Clare was one of three case studies we used at the FLOURISH connected and autonomous vehicle (CAV) workshop run by social research organisation OPM Group, Designability and University of West of England.  Organisations such as RNIB, Motability Operations, Department for Transport and The Royal Society for the Prevention of Accidents joined the workshop, held in London in December 2016.  Its purpose was to generate considerations about older and less mobile people that could inform the design of FLOURISH’s ‘human machine interface’.

The morning workshop started with an overview of the FLOURISH project.  Next, was a discussion on what technology is used by older and less mobile people to help their mobility and how they adopt it.  Easy to use technology such as Uber’s app to book disability friendly cars was highlighted, as was the importance of the role of children in helping older people feel comfortable with new technology.

Exploring the three case studies was then the focus of the rest of the morning:

  • Clare, described above,
  • Lloyd: a 44 year old paralysed by a motorcycle accident and the father of a football mad son, and
  • John, a 78 year old retiree with a double knee replacement and a wife with diabetes.

The tables of five or six participants took one case study each and tackled questions such as:

  • What journey would they want to make with an autonomous vehicle?
  • What would they need to know on their journey?
  • What kind of functionality should the autonomous vehicle have?

Participants got stuck in imagining different journeys and needs for our case studies. For Clare, participants developed the journey for her to travel into town, picking up a friend en route, to socialise and shop. Considerations included: Will the vehicle arrive on time? Can she communicate with her friend to let her know her ETA? When she is ready to go home how will she find the vehicle easily? Can it come to her?

When discussing functionality, some of the ideas and suggestions that came up included:

Pre-set user profiles: the ability to recall a ‘pre-set’ profile that tailors the vehicle to the individual. For example, seat height, route preference, air con, driving style, comfort etc.

Technology interface: the possibility of a user’s own technology interfacing with the CAV, from consciously using a phone or tablet to control the vehicle’s functionality to other technologies automatically connecting e.g. a pacemaker monitor.

Dynamic route selection: the ability to change route during journey, add-in or remove waypoints and make unscheduled stops such as toilet breaks.

Driving style control: The ability to control the CAV’s driving style – such as its suspension, speed, and distance between surrounding cars.

This was the first of three workshops to be held each year during the project. A full report is being finalised this month. Stakeholders were keen to continue to be involved and the thoughts generated will be further explored in February’s focus groups with members of the public (older people, carers and mobility impaired people). Like the stakeholder workshop, the focus groups will help to ensure that the human machine interface is designed with people, like Clare’s, needs in mind.


Author: Helen Ashley, OPM Group.


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