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By William Tsuei, Director of Information Technology, Access Service

From Autonomous Vehicle (AV) to Accessible Autonomous Vehicle (AAV)William Tsuei, Director of Information Technology, Access Service

In a typical automobile industry, automobile is designed for regular passengers without much of the considerations to people with disabilities.  Access Services (Access), a public demand response paratransit agency providing ADA paratransit services to the ADA communities in Los Angeles County, is on a mission to change that. 

Access Services, the 2nd largest ADA para transit agency in the United States, has been working on implementing an innovative Accessible Autonomous Vehicle program as part of our ongoing efforts to embrace new technologies for people with disabilities. The goal is to design and deploy an accessible autonomous vehicle as a research project and share the results with the international transit community.

The project consists of several phases as listed below.

Vehicle Development Phase

Our program will seek to develop 4 to 8 SAE Level 4 Accessible Autonomous Vehicles with the upgradability to SAE Level 5.  These vehicles would be both a Chrysler Pacifica plug-in hybrid vehicle with an electric drive train and a Dodge ProMaster powered by CNG. We will be retrofitting these vehicles to be 100 percent  in compliance with ADA requirement along with AV technologies provided by LiLee Systems in San Jose, California.  Compares to the slow speed shuttles such as EZ-10, Navya and Olli, our vehicles of choice are in compliance with Federal Motor Vehicle Safety Standards (FMVSS) and can travel in normal speed in mixed traffic on public roads.

Our vehicle will equip with BLE Beacon to provide precision docking, curbside guidance and automated mobile ticket/voucher validation. 

Our program will seek to develop 4 to 8 SAE Level 4 Accessible Autonomous Vehicles with the upgradability to SAE Level 5

 The onboard cameras will provide facial recognition capability to identify the registered riders and proceed with curbside guidance in conjunction with the BLE Beacon and mobile apps resides on rider’s smartphone.  Onboard camera will also scan the interior of the vehicle to send out seating capability alerts to riders.

The vehicle will also equip with automated wheelchair securement device to automatically secure the wheelchair without human intervention.  A Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) compliance mobile apps will be created to work with the onboard technologies deployed.  This mobile applications is designed with the enhanced Human-Machine Interface (HMI) by introducing various assistive technologies in the software development cycle.

Testing Phase

In order to ensure safe on-street operations, these vehicles will undergo extensive testing prior to deployment.  The vehicles will be tested by UC Berkeley PATH (Partners for Advanced Transportation Technology) in its Richmond Field facility as well as on CA-82 near Palo Alto that mimics the actual planned vehicle operations.  During these tests, we will monitor vehicle-to-infrastructure communications, data collection, data storage, and video streaming data. Only after we have fully tested the vehicles and infrastructure communication technology will we conduct the next phase.

In partnership with the City of Los Angeles Department of Transportation, we are working to have LiDAR, HD Camera, radar, DSRC sensors and data communications established at seven intersections on the route, along with traffic signal priority. At each intersection, edge computing will be deployed to filter these datasets at local level before sending over to the cloud to reduce bandwidth consumption. 

Thesedatasets would interface with on-board vehicle computervia 5G connection to further enhance the safety of autonomous operation.

Operations Phase

For six months to one year, Access would test the vehicles on the route outlined below without passengers using a vehicle operator and engineers. Following successful tests, Access would operate with passengers who choose to use the service.  Each vehicle would include an attendant who would help passengers load into and out of vehicles. The attendant would also have the ability to manually take over operation of the vehicle if necessary.

Proposed Route

To identify the route for the pilot project, Access looked at areas with a high numbers of Access rider trips.  Additionally, we looked at routes where our riders frequently used mobility devices, such as wheelchairs.For the pilot program, we selected a route that would connect at a major transit hub – Metro Los Angeles’ Westwood/Rancho Park Station to Expo Line to the West Los Angeles Veteran’s Administration facility, which includes the Veteran’s Administration Hospital.

 

Our operation will begin with first/last mile circulator services to connect the two end points.  Once we have reached to a satisfactory level in operations, we will explore the possibility to provide an on demand ride-hailing services similar to the services provided by the transportation network company (TNC), such as Uber and Lyft.  However, due to the vehicle quantity limitation, we will be experiment this type of services in a geo-fenced areas based on ¾ miles expansion of the proposed corridor with a 25 minutes of targeted wait time.

The Impact

AAV can fundamentally changes the travel patterns to the people with disabilities.  With AAV, they will have more access to jobs and other opportunities.  It is the first time that mobility freedom and technology equity can be fulfilled altogether since the inception of the project.  The ADA community will no longer become a victim of the after-thought that is often seen in any disrupted and innovative project.  Access Services in Los Angeles is on a mission.

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