The U.S. Department of Transportation recently announced $4.925 million in grants to fund four new Tier 1 University Transportation Centers (UTCs) to advance research and education programs that address critical transportation challenges facing our nation. The University of Pittsburgh was named one of the recipients of $1 million for its project entitled “Implications of Accessible Automated Vehicles and Mobility Services for People with Disabilities.”
Pitt will work with the Uniformed Services University of Health Sciences in Bethesda, MD, The Catholic University of America in Washington D.C., the Toyota Mobility Foundation, and the Merlin Mobility Corporation. McGowan Institute for Regenerative Medicine affiliated faculty member Rory Cooper, PhD, FISA & Paralyzed Veterans of America Professor and Distinguished Professor of the Department of Rehabilitation Science and Technology, professor of Bioengineering, Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation, and Orthopedic Surgery at the University of Pittsburgh, and Founding Director and VA Senior Research Career Scientist of the Human Engineering Research Laboratories, will serve as the lead researcher and director of the study. As reported by Kiley Koscinski, WESA, Pitt’s UTC will complete three projects within the study according to Dr. Cooper:
- A review of the scientific and public literature about accessibility transportation and autonomous vehicles
- A survey of consumers and car manufacturers including focus groups and mobility mapping
- A consumer market model where data and guidelines for autonomous vehicle developers will be displayed
Pittsburgh has become a hub for autonomous vehicle development, with companies like Uber and Argo AI testing vehicles on the streets. But Dr. Cooper worries developers aren’t thinking about accessibility as a standard to meet alongside the safety and efficiency metrics.
“There’s been autonomous vehicles on the streets of Pittsburgh for several years, and yet they’re not accessible,” Dr. Cooper said.
He expects the study to help developers and manufacturers be more mindful, “So that as these systems eventually become ubiquitous, they’re enabling for individuals with disabilities rather than creating artificial barriers.”
However, some autonomous vehicle developers in Pittsburgh have contacted Dr. Cooper with interest in the study, he said. He declined to identify which companies expressed interest.
According to Dr. Cooper, the project marries Pittsburgh’s innovative autonomous vehicle sector with its history of developing disability technology.
“I’m glad to see that we’re able to marry those two domains together,” he said. “We have the potential to change the world.”
Each UTC will conduct its research over the next 18 to 24 months. UTCs advance U.S. technology and expertise in the many modes and disciplines composing transportation and address workforce needs for the next generation of transportation leaders.