Co-design for innovative travel concepts 

In a series of workshops, people with a disability imagined concepts that reduced barriers to travel. Some built upon new technology, whilst others took existing ideas and added an inclusive twist. Alongside transport operators and assistive technology specialists, emerging technologies were introduced to stimulate ideas for innovations addressing one or more travel barriers. These ns were then prioritised according to feasibility and impact, and a priority list was prepared.

Co-design was based upon a careful selection of stakeholders with diverse perspectives. Finding stakeholders with a common understanding of the challenges, the technology and the impact of disability was difficult. Clearly, passengers wanted to consider their full journeys from planning to a safe return. Still, the lack of a shared language to discuss those barriers and very different understanding and experience of new technologies, such as Robotics, the Internet of things, augmented reality, wearables and artificial intelligence., made dialogue and discussion difficult.

It was clear that building such shared understanding was an essential first step in co-design. It led to the evolution of both incremental innovations that sought to address specific travel barriers and disruptive innovations that addressed the entire process of travel and mobility.

The most popular and desired innovations were those that addressed specific issues and could be implemented soon. They built upon current technologies available on the market but imagined their use in new ways. The most popular solution was for accessible and inclusive travel planners. These addressed the problem of information held in silos. Recognising travel as a seamless process, they drew upon data sources such as station access, accessible routing, onboard accessibility, and what to do when things went wrong. They helped not only those with disabilities but also anyone with any additional needs during a journey. Additional information such as how crowded the next vehicle is might also benefit those who are neurodiverse and want to avoid congestion, which might trigger pain or discomfort. Above all else, such an application would make journeys more manageable and comfortable with less time spent thinking about travel and more time enjoying the journey.

The implementation of Voice or Speech assistants during travel was welcomed by those with limited sight and those who found it challenging to read signage as it changed or when it was blocked from view. This could include live information about congestion and the surrounding area with suggestions for the best way to leave the vehicle or station.

Assistants could be integrated with wearable technologies such as smart bracelets to pay for travel upon boarding whilst communicating to the driver that a longer boarding time was required. Such bands address the problems of accessible ticketing systems, avoiding the need to use kiosks or online ticketing systems. Emerging wearables provided further opportunities. Smart glasses could provide additional information within a vehicle, such as locating accessible spaces or toilets onboard or the location and direction of approaching transport whilst waiting.

Some wearables explored opportunities offered by augmented reality (AR) applications AR would enhance the physical world rather than isolate the user from that environment. The more information available, in a digestible form, the greater their confidence in the journey ahead.

These ideas built upon current technologies and found new ways to apply those technologies. The technology was not a barrier if there was a will to change. We also encouraged participants to dream and think “big” to address the obstacles. The responses were fascinating, and whilst some verged upon science fiction, others were technically feasible based on emerging technologies already entering the marketplace.

For instance, “Levitating” wheelchairs that could hover at low altitude to avoid obstacles could reduce any need for alternative transportation. These could go anywhere and provide complete autonomy. Whilst appearing to be fantasy, the idea was based on available drones and robotics, including flying delivery vehicles being trialled in some parts of the world.

Stakeholders envisaged an autonomous smart car without any driver, rented for personal use. The technology could be tailored to an individual’s needs and linked to a user profile engaged when the user enters the vehicle through face recognition. Reducing driver dependency and public transport improved the independence of persons with disabilities. It drew upon emerging technologies such as AI, the Internet of Things, and Robotics to offer automated and intuitive guidance and transport.

Robotics were also at the heart of a design for assistive buddy robots. A travel buddy was a device that followed the traveller carrying luggage and offered support such as information and wayfinding. It felt both futuristic and feasible with value to people with disabilities and lone and older travellers with bags feeling overwhelmed as they travelled.

A divergent approach was described by another group as imagined cities with integrated mobile walkways. Such a system was for all with tangible benefits for those with disabilities, with a strong sense of inclusivity in this concept. It built upon existing technology in airports and metro stations, so it felt friendly and straightforward to use. Added value was seen in the opportunity to reduce traffic congestion and associated pollution in cities, creating a healthier and more pleasant environment for all.

Dreams needed to be rooted in technical feasibility. It became clear that as stakeholders developed a means of describing experiences and potential technologies evolved capacity to imagine transport concepts with real potential. The emerging technologies most utilised in those concepts, with perceived impact in the short, medium and long term, were Artificial Intelligence, the Internet of Things, wearables, Robotics or Drones and natural interfaces to interact with infrastructure and systems. The greatest benefits arose when these different technologies were combined and integrated with creativity and imagination.