USDOT Names Three Winners of Inclusive Design Challenge

The United States Department of Transportation (USDOT) has named the first, second and third winners of its inaugural Inclusive Design Challenge. The challenge launched more than two years ago to stimulate innovation in the accessibility of automated vehicles.

The $5 million Inclusive Design Challenge awarded its first prize of $1 million to Purdue University, the second prize of $700,000 was awarded to AbleLink Smart Living Technologies and the third prize of $300,000 went to was awarded to the University of Maine.

The multi-stage program began in January 2020 with an RFI where applicants submitted their projects in writing. In January 2021, USDOT awarded $3 million to 10 semi-finalists in the challenge to develop prototypes of their design with the final winners selected from those projects.

“Automated vehicles have the revolutionary potential to help seniors and people with disabilities get around more easily, but we need to make sure accessibility is part of the conversation from the start,” said the U.S. Transportation Secretary. , Pete Buttigieg. “That is why [USDOT] launched the Inclusive Design Challenge, and we are thrilled to award these first winners funding to help them advance their innovative ideas and improve transportation for people with disabilities.

The Inclusive Design Challenge was created by USDOT to promote innovative designs to improve mobility options for people with physical, sensory, and cognitive disabilities, encourage collaboration, and explore new designs and technologies. USDOT says the program draws on the expertise of the disability community, researchers, advocates and entrepreneurs, tapping into their knowledge and creativity to promote greater access and shape the future of mobility. .

The top projects were announced at a hybrid in-person and virtual event at USDOT to celebrate the 32nd anniversary of the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990.

Find out more about the winning projects

Purdue University won the $1 million top prize with its Efficient, Accessible, and Safe Interaction in a True Integrated Design Environment for Cyclists with Disabilities (EASI RIDER) project.

The team developed an automated vehicle that incorporates universal design features to accommodate people with physical and sensory disabilities. The vehicle features a ramp-in-floor design, a self-deploying “smart ramp”, an automated wheelchair docking system, and an on-board user interface that provides functionality tailored to a wide range of disabilities. The product helps users locate an automated vehicle, get on and off the vehicle, secure themselves and their mobility aids, and interact with the vehicle via touchscreen and voice control.

AbleLink Smart Living Technologies received the second prize of $700,000 for its project, WayFinder ADS – Enabling Independent Use of Autonomous Vehicles by People with Cognitive Disabilities and Others with Special Needs.

The WayFinder ADS system is a comprehensive mobile application that connects users to automated vehicles to allow them to travel autonomously to pre-determined destinations. The app includes a cloud program that would allow a family member or travel coach to track the individual as they travel and interact with the vehicle. The app also includes educational programs to orient users on the use and operation of automated vehicles in a safe virtual environment.

The University of Maine (UMaine) received $300,000 for its third place project, Autonomous Vehicle Assistant (Ava): Ride-hailing and localization for the future of accessible mobility.

Ava is a smart phone app designed to help passengers with visual impairments and seniors plan their trip, get to pick-up locations and board vehicles. The app allows users to hail an autonomous vehicle and then drive to that vehicle while avoiding any obstacles in their path using a visual user interface, natural language text-to-speech, and reality increased. The researchers used GPS, LiDAR, Gyroscope and Accelerometer technology; real-time computer vision via smartphone camera; machine learning; artificial intelligence; and other software.

“This is an exciting national recognition of one of the outstanding and ongoing research and development initiatives of our VEMI lab,” said UMaine President Joan Ferrini-Mundy. “Such innovation addressing needs, including those of equity and inclusion, and providing critical technological advancements are among the achievements of our R1 Research Universities.”

USDOT says it will continue to engage with Inclusive Design Challenge participants as they advance their innovations.



Learn more about Purdue University’s EASI RIDER project:

Learn more about the AbleLink Smart Living Technologies project:

Learn more about the University of Maine’s Ava project:

About Octavia A. Dorr

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