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Transforming mobility means putting users at the heart of design

Alex Roe | 27 Feb 2017 | Comments

In previous years, several films have depicted self-driving cars as the status quo (Knight Rider, Logan’s Run, Fifth Element, to name a few). But now fantasy is becoming a reality with the production of a growing number of prototypes that will change the way we travel in future.

Often it’s too easy to get carried away with new technologies and assume that people will use it because it’s novel. To ensure we are applying the right solutions, it is important we seek to understand the needs of the end-user and incorporate these into our design processes. It is only then, we can guarantee the technology will be used and is fit for purpose.

At Atkins, we are continuously considering new ways of travelling that will transform people's journeys and the movement of goods. This includes understanding where we can apply intelligent mobility solutions to bring about significant benefits to both the travelling public and transport providers.

Our involvement in the FLOURISH project is a great example of involving users in the development of the technology to gain a deeper understanding of what customers want. The way it works is through a continuous cycle of gaining insight, development, testing and then refining the technology. Our approach will ensure that provision of future Connected and Autonomous Vehicles (CAVs) meets specific mobility needs and can improve quality of life by enabling older adults to be active contributors to the economy and society.

Fundamentally, Autonomous Vehicles are set to provide huge advantages to our society and predicted to make a significant difference to tackling the growing problems of congestion, accidents on the roads (accounting for nearly 1.3million deaths per year globally), our growing discontentment with the daily commuting experience and giving us all the chance for a bit more “me time”.

But aren’t there some fundamental challenges behind human behaviour we might be overlooking? Will people be willing to give up their cars which for many, gave them a sense of pride? Additionally, how much trust are we willing to put into technology?

Unpicking these challenges is key to increasing public confidence around the adoption of CAVs. Our involvement in the “VENTURER” project focuses on the users as well as the technology enabling CAVs. The project allows us to understand the blockers and drivers to wide scale adoption of CAV capability. For us, getting feedback from users and other stakeholders is invaluable and means that we are producing a product that will be fit for purpose. For example, gathering invaluable feedback from trial participants on their experiences of Autonomous Vehicles and applying these to our designs, helps us to better understand where improvements can be made.

We have already captured some useful feedback from our VENTURER project. These include, views on manual driving, the driver’s ability to regain control of the vehicle and when the AVs might be most useful in the case of longer journeys.

For me, this is just the start. Without the continued insight and involvement of users, it may be a tough challenge to encourage people on the journey to a fundamental change for us all.

It's also about being bold and doing something a little different. In the case of the Zume trial, we created an on demand commuter shuttle service to explore the feasibility of Mobility as a Service. The two week trial provided new transport partnering opportunities and there was a genuine level of interest from the public. Experiments such as these are useful and we need more opportunities like this to gain valuable insight from both the end users and other stakeholders.

There are often sceptics when it comes to the adoption of new technologies but through our continued efforts to engage end-users and place them at the centre of design, we can hope to influence the hearts and minds of the majority and help turn fantasy into a reality.

To find out more about intelligent mobility from Atkins, visit our hub