Yousuf covered three “new paradigms” in transportation that address these needs. The first involves intelligent transportation systems, which include connected vehicle research and automated vehicle research. Connected vehicle research seeks to develop vehicles that communicate with each other and with the traffic infrastructure, such as traffic lights. Pedestrians also can be brought into the mix using wireless technologies. Automated vehicle research, which seeks to create vehicles that can drive on their own, could be an even greater boon to travelers with disabilities.
The second paradigm involves advanced research in such areas as artificial intelligence, computer machine learning, and brain-reinforced learning. Some of this research is being carried out through the SBIR program at the Federal Highway Administration and through the Intelligent Transportation Systems Joint Program Office. These programs are focused largely on mobility in general, but they also have applications for travelers with disabilities.
Finally, Yousuf mentioned synergistic approaches that combine wireless technologies, sensors, robotics, and artificial intelligence. For example, he described a system in which a pedestrian with a smartphone could communicate with the traffic signal to request more time to cross an intersection.1 Such a system could accommodate mobility-impaired, vision-impaired, or hearing-impaired pedestrians in ways suited to each group.
New technology solutions could result in big savings, Yousuf said. As an example, he mentioned the idea of converting some paratransit trips to fixed-route trips. If a quarter of the paratransit trips in 2010 were converted, the savings could be $1.5 billion per year. In addition, service could be better, compared with the fragmented and sometimes delayed service that exists today. Building users’ needs into the transportation system at the beginning is generally less costly than retrofitting existing systems.
Understanding Users’ Needs
Yousuf described four major categories of disabilities—mobility, hearing, vision, and intellectual—and focused specifically on the last category as an example. If a parent asks the question, “Did my son get on the bus?,”
1In his presentation earlier in the workshop, Rory Cooper noted that a wheelchair travels at a typical speed of about 0.8 meters per second, which means that the average wheelchair user cannot get across the street before a streetlight changes, because streetlights are set for speeds of about 1 meter per second.