(UK)

A UK team is developing an autonomous vehicle that will provide improved urban access for blind and visually impaired people.

The INSIGHT Project group is transforming self driving pods used at Heathrow Airport – called Ultra-Pods – and making them suitable for future deployment in city centre locations. It is modifying the pods so they can operate outwith set tracks by equipping them with sensory data technology and 3D imaging systems.

One of the pods can be seen this week at the Thinktank Science Garden in Birmingham’s Eastside. The public, including blind and visually impaired users, can pop by and see what they think, as well as give feedback to the INSIGHT Project team.

Dr Umar Daraz, Director for the Institute of Sustainable Futures at Birmingham City University – which is part of the project – said: “We are really excited about giving local people the opportunity to see one of these vehicles and to find out more about what the project is doing and importantly influence the Pods’ future development.

“It is great that we will also be able to give blind and visually impaired groups the chance to give their feedback on the Pods, which will be key to fine tuning them and making sure they meet the needs of users who may have difficulty travelling independently in busy city environments.

“This project is a great example of bringing a range of public and private partners together to test what can be done in the fast moving world of autonomous vehicles and we hope as many people as possible will have the chance to come along see the vehicles and talk to the team.”

The INSIGHT Project, which has been backed by £2.2 million of funding from the UK Government, is a collaboration between Westfield Sportscars, Birmingham City University, Heathrow Enterprises, Fusion Processing and Conigital Group.