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Publication Number: FHWA-HRT-11-042
Date: September 2011
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Technological advancements could help to empower people with disabilities by addressing their mobility needs, however, the benefits of such advancement have not yet reached this segment of the traveling public. There is an opportunity to explore the suite of new technologies, such as wireless, dedicated short-range communication (DSRC), global positioning systems (GPS), object detection, and robotics to find methods, tools, or devices that offer persons with different impairments accessible transportation to meet their personal mobility and public transportation needs.
The Federal Highway Administration’s (FHWA) Office of Operations Research and Development (R&D), with the Exploratory Advanced Research (EAR) Program, intends to examine current and future advancements in Intelligent Transportation Systems (ITS) and other technologies that could provide broad safety and mobility benefits for pedestrians, and targeted assistive technology to improve accessible transportation for people with vision impairment and other disabilities. It also aims to identify opportunities and share knowledge and experience on how various technologies, such as mobile computing, computer vision, artificial intelligence, and robotics could be integrated to assist people with disabilities to be more mobile and independent.
FHWA’s EAR Program focuses on long-term, high-risk research with a high payoff potential. The program addresses underlying gaps faced by applied highway research programs, anticipates emerging issues with national implications, and reflects broad transportation industry goals and objectives.
On February 23, 2011, at the Turner-Fairbank Highway Research Center (TFHRC) in McLean, VA, FHWA’s Office of Operations R&D, with the EAR Program, convened a 1-day workshop on technological innovations for people with disabilities. The focus was to find new ways to improve mobility for people with disabilities by using anticipated and current technologies and building on existing infrastructure.
The workshop began with Michael Trentacoste, Associate Administrator for FHWA’s Office of Research, Development, and Technology (RD&T) and Director of TFHRC, welcoming attendees and providing a brief overview of FHWA’s involvement in transportation accessibility, and the importance of improving highway facilities for all users. Joe Peters, Director, Office of Operations R&D at FHWA, then outlined the importance of raising awareness of people with disabilities and addressing individual user requirements. Next, David Kuehn, EAR Program Manager at FHWA, offered insight into the application of long-term research to enable the public to travel safely with greater mobility and greater access. Richard Devylder, Senior Advisor on Accessible Transportation at the U.S. Department of Transportation, then presented his thoughts on technology solutions to mainstream accessible transportation and ensure functional needs are being met. Finally, Mohammed Yousuf, Office of Operations R&D at FHWA, provided insight into the importance of technological innovations in transportation for people with disabilities and addressed the suite of new and emerging technologies now available.
A panel of six speakers then presented on technological advancements, and existing and developing tools, methods, and concepts related to pedestrians with vision-impairments and other disabilities. Following these presentations, the speakers, disability experts, and representatives from academia, the transportation industry, and other professional areas, discussed applications to wayfinding and guidance, identified knowledge gaps and opportunities, and highlighted barriers to implementation.
Speakers presented on a range of topics, from economics, environmental awareness, and accessibility to robotics, wayfinding, and mobile technology. Here is an overview of the six presentations:
Many of the new technologies discussed at the workshop offer benefits for those with disabilities. ITS, wireless technologies, robotics, artificial intelligence, navigation, guidance, universal design, and accessible transportation; all offer access to daily activities such as independent travel to work, school, shopping, or recreation.
ITS, wireless technologies, and mobile computing can enable a person to cross a roundabout equipped with knowledge of the surrounding environment and traffic conditions, while broadcasting and receiving information with the infrastructure and vehicles. Robotics, artificial intelligence, and object detection technology can detect hazards and obstructions on sidewalks or offer assistive navigation solutions.
Navigation, wayfinding, orientation, and guidance technology can be used to enhance mobility. It can allow a person with a visual impairment to navigate a crowded station or find his or her way around unfamiliar buildings. Universal design and accessible technologies aim to keep accessibility simple, often looking to integrate new technology with a device that is already carried by the person.
Although there are a lot of useful and often life-changing technologies in existence, there are also many technologies that do not work well for all people. As new technology is developed and introduced, it is critical to users that it be reliable.
Following the morning presentations, small breakout groups identified gaps, challenges, and opportunities specific to a range of topics.
Some of the issues related to ITS, wireless technologies, and mobile computing were considered as a series of basic travel needs to be met, from the ability to receive information on a mobile device, to sharing real-time transit information over a network. The proliferation of smart phones points to many future applications for such devices, although affordability and overall cost to access this technology need to be kept in mind. To fully leverage technology requires open access to travel information data.
Discussion of robotics, artificial intelligence, and object detection covered some of the many problems facing a visually-impaired traveler on a daily basis; from identifying departure information, purchasing a fare, boarding the correct vehicle, and disembarking at the correct stop, to avoiding obstacles and traffic along the street, and finding crosswalks and signals. In addition, assistive technology can find ways to improve overall spatial awareness.
The navigation, wayfinding, orientation, and guidance group highlighted the need to consider a multimodal journey when attempting to implement wayfinding technology for the visually impaired. Improved access from technology could improve the confidence of travelers with disabilities. Access to wayfinding information is inconsistent and for a traveler to want to start carrying around a wayfinding device, the technology needs to be implemented on a large scale. The overall finding was to improve access for all and offer technology to improve the confidence of travelers with disabilities.
When examining issues pertaining to universal design and accessible transportation, the objective is to eliminate unexpected obstacles to make getting around, whether on a sidewalk or a transit system, as seamless and barrier-free as possible. A level playing field is needed, with cross-disability support provided in multiple formats.
General discussion at the end of the workshop was designed to identify potential topics worthy of research investment.
The importance of sharing information between interested parties was considered key to moving forward. Certain organizations, such as the National Council on Disabilities, already gather detailed information about barriers faced in transportation to continue outreach and coordination so research can respond to national needs.
There have been many cases of a new technology that would be of great benefit to many people and Government policies can support a path for new assistive technologies and markets to thrive.
Finally, many new technologies could offer a different way to carry out a task, but to make a case for investors, the true benefits need to be accurately measured. Quantitative and qualitative assessments of the potential impact of a new technology on the end user should be identified, and given that travelers with disabilities have wide variation of wants and needs, the target population should be involved at all stages.
For more information on the Technological Innovations in Transportation for People with Disabilities workshop, contact Mohammed Yousuf at FHWA, 202-493-3199 (email: firstname.lastname@example.org). To learn more about the EAR Program, visit the Exploratory Advanced Research Web site at www.fhwa.dot/gov/advancedresearch, or contact David Kuehn at FHWA, 202-493-3414.
Topics: research, exploratory advanced research
Keywords: research, exploratory advanced research, Technological, Innovations, Disabilities, Transportation, Accessibility, Environmental Awareness, Convergence, Navigation, Wayfinding, Orientation, Detection, Universal Design, Robotics, Artificial Intelligence, ITS, Accessible Transportation, Machine Vision, Event Horizon, Guidance, Accessible GPS
TRT Terms: research, Information organization, Activities leading to information generation, Research, Research projects