Assessing the future accessibility of mobility - A qualitative research on the extent of user representation of older and physically disabled people in the Netherlands by AV technology companies
Sterkenburg, V.L.D. van
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As the worldwide population is aging, the number of people experiencing travel impairments is expected to increase. At the same time, the introduction of automated vehicles (AV) is widely expected to have a wide range of advantages and disadvantages, yielding many implications for society. Vulnerable users experiencing travel impairments, which includes older and physically disabled people, are more significantly affected by social exclusion, because of a lack of access to economic opportunities. At the same time, the needs of these vulnerable users are still often not addressed by major AV technology companies. This research draws on existing literature in user involvement in technology design to research societal implications of AVs for older and physically disabled users. This framework was used to address the central research question: How are older and/or physically disabled people in the Netherlands involved and represented in automated vehicle technology developments? An explorative and qualitative research was conducted, in which in-depth interviews were conducted with interest organizations representing older and physically disabled users in the Netherlands. These organizations delivered important factors to consider regarding the involvement and representation of these users in AV technology design. Various user involvement factors were also mapped and analysed from car manufacturers and people mover (PM) companies. These results were then used to map how representations of older and physically disabled users have influenced AV technology design. Although older and physically disabled users in the Netherlands are barely involved in automated vehicle technology projects, these groups preferred a focus on earlier involvement in the design, mock-up and prototype testing and the use of physical contact over virtual contact. In addition, developers should focus on facilitating an interplay between user groups, targeting separate user groups first, after which user groups could collectively be approached. Car manufacturers base their user involvement preferences on striving to approach the standard human in design as close as possible. To achieve this, car manufactures use customer clinics as their main user involvement tool with a representative customer sample of young, middle-aged and older users. Older users were also mentioned as part of several research projects with universities. At the same time, users to be involved also depend on user profiles, created through data analytics, marketing perspectives and automation factors. Based on these factors, older and physically disabled users are not considered a high priority for AV technology development, which results in scarce involvement of older users and no mentioned involvement of physically disabled users in AV technology projects. Physically disabled users were expected to be increasingly involved in AV technology projects as the industry was shifting towards urban mobility and PM shuttles. PM companies themselves focus on all users that are using public transport services, although users are not directly involved in the design. Instead, transport operators act as an intermediary actor, transferring user input from user groups to people mover companies. Mentioned adaptations, such as improved braking and on-board safety systems indicate that both older and physically disabled users are involved by transport operators and represented to some extent. User representations of older users have also influenced some AV technology developments, if customer clinics were used. The most notable examples include adjustable low-level AV settings for speed and distance to a lead vehicle and streamlined AV system behavior with measurement technology. This shows that older users are represented to a small extent in both private and public AV technology developments and that physically disabled users are represented to some extent in public AV technology developments.