Bus for Seniors Has No Driver. Good Idea?
Melanie Stone posted on March 03, 2020 |
Canada, UK investigate AI-based transportation for older populations.
The Easy Mile autonomous vehicle. (Image courtesy of University of Manitoba News.)
The Easy Mile autonomous vehicle. (Image courtesy of University of Manitoba News.)

Researchers are looking into the possibility of using artificial intelligence (AI), in the form of electric autonomous vehicles (AVs), to assist aging populations with their transportation needs. A feasibility study is being conducted out of the University of Manitoba called Responsible Automation for Inclusive Mobility (RAIM). By running simulations and evaluating the results, they hope to determine how to best to manage important factors such as safety, cost-effectiveness and operational challenges.

There is related research being performed with and by colleges in the United Kingdom, which centers on potential adoption. “The two areas of interest—Manitoba and the West Midlands, UK—are facing the combined challenge of increasing older populations with service issues and reducing patronage on existing services for older travelers.”

In an attempt to service this specific demographic, the challenges inherent to AVs are further complicated by anticipating reduced mobility issues and attempting to foresee and remove any other barriers to adoption and ease of use.

Barriers to standard autonomous vehicle development include:

  • Navigation and guidance
  • Driving and safety
  • Overall automotive performance
  • Adapting to road, weather and traffic conditions as they change
  • Interference with radar or other proximity sensor technology

In addition to the mobility questions being addressed by the researchers, there are additional considerations that might worry a municipality trying to take care of a vulnerable segment of its citizens with an AV.

  • What if the seniors are in cognitive decline? If the air conditioning goes out in the vehicle, will the windows open? If it slowly gets hotter, some might not be quite aware enough or afraid of strange technology and decide not to touch anything. There would have to be environmental sensors running that would require alternative corrections for performance issues like this.
  • What if they have dementia? Caregivers provide destinations, but what if they try to get out at a stoplight somewhere? Would the car keep the doors locked? How would the car determine what if it is an escape that is needed versus a mistake?
  • What if they have a vision impairment? The car would need to provide voice prompts to update riders on the journey and would need to receive voice prompts to understand any commands given by the rider.
  • What if they have hearing impairments? Written messages and a keyboard might be required.
  • What if they have both hearing and vision impairments? Would a Braille interface be required? Buttons with prominent pictograms?

There are multiple disciplines represented by the study participants—including civil engineering, kinesiology and recreation management, electrical and computer engineering—so they do have a wide background of knowledge and experience to draw from.

If the EasyMile can help seniors, why not other vulnerable populations? What about children or people with disabilities? The concept could certainly provide benefits if expanded to other demographics.

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