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Expert comment from Shravani Sharma

Shravani Sharma, Researcher at WMG at the University of Warwick, comments on the news that the Government is to cancel rail industry plans to close thePicture shows a train station in England vast majority of railway station ticket offices in England.

Shravani Sharma, whose recent work focused on the impact of travel on those with disabilities, said: “It’s a relief to hear of the U-turn of the ticket office closures. Through working with a range of disability charities, it’s clear that the removal of ticket offices would have a profound impact on the disabled. Working with CASBA (Citizen Advocacy South Birmingham Area), which supports people with learning difficulties, Royal National Institute of Blind People (RNIB) and Cerebral Palsy Midlands has shed light on the problems removing the ticket offices would have on the disabled.

“People with different visible and non-visible disabilities – including blindness, mobility problems, hearing loss, cerebral palsy and ADHD amongst others – would be severely impacted by the loss of ticket offices. People could be challenged by the technology, unable to distinguish train tickets from receipts, or simply need the guidance or assistance of a ticket officer.

“The U-turn will be a relief for so many people across the UK. When planning policies for the transport industry, people from a wide range of backgrounds, with different needs, must be properly listened to before making any big decisions. I would urge the government to consult both disability charities and the disabled in future policymaking.”


Tue 31 Oct 2023, 15:46 | Tags: HVM Catapult Research Human Factors

Self-driving cars will be part of the future – but researchers fear we are leaving the disabled behind

Picture shows of how driverless vehicles may look on the highwaySelf-driving cars will be part of the future, but researchers fear people with disabilities are being left behind in the development of the technology.

Over the past two decades, transportation has become more accessible, but people with disabilities still face significant barriers to accessing these services. While self-driving cars (also known as autonomous vehicles) have the potential to dramatically improve the lives of those with disabilities, helping them to travel independently, experts fear their views are being neglected in the development of the new technology

To address this, researchers from WMG at The University of Warwick and leading disability charities have considered the impact of self-driving taxis on people with disabilities, an area that has seen limited improvement over recent years.

They found that the absence of a driver was strongly correlated with feelings and perceptions of increased travel freedom, indicating that autonomous taxis could provide greater accessibility for those with disabilities – without the limitations or biases associated with their current experiences with traditional taxis and drivers.

The team also considered current issues people who have disabilities face with transport – particularly in booking taxi journeys. Participants expressed concerns about driver attitudes and behaviour as negative experiences with traditional taxis.

Lead author Shravani Sharma, PhD Researcher, WMG, University of Warwick, said: “Our research highlights the current issues those with disabilities face when booking taxis – with many reporting that their trips have been cancelled due to their use of a wheelchair. Drivers might feel the extra time wheelchairs add to journeys would reduce their earnings. While there are laws in place preventing black cab drivers cancelling journeys for those with wheelchairs – there are no such laws for other companies.

“Self-driving taxis could provide those with disabilities more freedom and reduce fear of discrimination. So, it’s crucial we listen to their opinions in developing the technology.

“We worked with charities including CASBA (Citizen Advocacy South Birmingham Area), which supports people with learning difficulties, Royal National Institute of Blind People (RNIB) and Cerebral Palsy Midlands to name a few, providing a wide range of voices and expertise. This represented many different visible and non-visible disabilities – including blindness, mobility problems, hearing loss, cerebral palsy and ADHD amongst others. The perspectives of more than 39,000 different organisation members were included.

“Alongside the current problems those with disabilities face when booking taxis, we highlighted their concerns for future, self-driving taxis. The main concern was the availability of human assistance to meet specific user needs throughout the journey.”

Examples of concerns for future, self-driving taxis:

  • The challenges faced by individuals in wheelchairs when attempting to enter a car without assistance are multifaceted. Tasks include placing their wheelchair inside the car, securing themselves within it, disassembling and carefully navigating the wheelchair upon departure.

  • For those with visual impairments, the struggle lies in identifying their vehicle within a crowded setting, such as a bustling railway station.

  • The loss of social interactions and the light-hearted atmosphere during journeys. Many individuals with disabilities unfortunately contend with feelings of loneliness and isolation, making everyday conversations a vital source of companionship and comfort throughout their journey.

Shravani added: “It is also important that manufacturers consider the wide range of disabilities and the intricate needs for passengers – remembering that not all disabilities are visible.”

Dr Roger Woodman, Head of Human Factors, at the University of Warwick, said: “Self-driving vehicles will open up driving to people that have never been on their own in a vehicle before. It has the potential to transform their lives – with reduced reliance on others to help them get from A to B.

“Driving is a very complex task to complete, so self-driving cars could enable someone with a disability, for example, cerebral palsy or tremors, to simply press a button and go.

Ginny Cullen, CEO of CASBA, added: “CASBA exists to ensure people with learning disabilities speak up for themselves, express their views, make their choices, and are valued as citizens. We were therefore delighted to have had the opportunity to be included in this research on new autonomous vehicles to ensure driving is accessible to all.”

CASE STUDIES – both available for media interviews upon request

Jen Brown
“I have a lot of trouble with the buses. I use a walker and they don’t lower the bus, making it very hard for me to get on and off.

“I had a lot of stress with a taxi company. I often travel from Kingstanding to Northfield. The taxi company didn’t want to take the job and sometimes cancelled, leaving me stressed and late for work. Sometimes I was not able to get home from work.

“I went to a food show in November, when I got to the station the lift was out of order. I walked round the station looking for staff to help, no one and there was no one in the office. I phoned mom and dad see if they could find a number. I had to end up putting my walker on the escalator which was very dangerous.

“I nearly got locked on the train once. I have regular visits to the Severn Valley Railway and am used to the journey. When got to Snow Hill the train stopped, and I thought it was waiting for the signal. People started to get off the train, and I didn’t know why, I decided to get off and just as I did the lights went off and the doors closed. It said on the screen it was cancelled and with my hearing impairment I couldn’t hear the announcement.

Jen added her thoughts on what difference self-driving taxis would make to her life. She said: “When I finish work, I feel very tired and don’t want to talk. I just want to relax on my way home. Also, with my hearing impairment if the windows are open, I can’t hear the driver and just guess as what he is saying. Self-driving taxis would cause me less stress and worry as I wouldn’t have to worry about what the driver is saying to me.”

Michaela Mooney
“I think some people misjudge invisible disability. I may look like I can do things like everyone else but it has a high energy cost for me; my joints hurt and sometimes dislocate so when there's no seats on a bus it can be a struggle. I fall over a lot, sometimes slam doors by accident and when people don't understand what happens it can be hard mentally and physically. I think a self-driving car would mean more independence as you don't have to depend on someone to get around.”

Notes to Editors

Shravani’s research also highlights:

  • This is the right time to involve many such organisations that work with people with disabilities to understand user needs via consultations, pilots, and testing.

  • Presently, autonomous vehicles and other transport related studies primarily focus on addressing physical disabilities. This emphasis is evident even in signage, consistently featuring wheelchair symbols. However, the breadth of this spectrum encompasses a wide array of conditions. Consequently, it is imperative for brands to acknowledge and cater to these varied requirements and this research can be a basepoint for such engagements.

  • This type of research of understanding user-specific needs and requirements will be useful for many such emerging technologies for the equitable rate of adoption to reach the overarching goal of inclusivity and accessibility.

  • Future research will also consider more intelligent human machine interaction that can have a social touch to it, for example, personalised conversation nuances, or even adding diverse accents to computer generated voices.
Fri 22 Sep 2023, 14:34 | Tags: Intelligent Vehicles Research Human Factors

WMG Assistant Professor joins Micromobility Research Fund

Roger WoodmanWMG Assistant Professor of Human Factors, Roger Woodman, has been selected to join the Micromobility Research Fund set up by the Ford-owned e-scooter firm Spin.

Roger is one of only 12 academics selected to join the panel made up of experts from ten leading UK and US universities and industry. Together they will study various safety aspects of e-scooter use as well as rider behaviour, and the challenges and opportunities of the integration within a city’s road systems and existing public transport networks.

Roger Woodman explains: "Ultimately, the point of introducing e-scooter schemes is to advance our society and to bring a greater benefit to all, not just to the e-scooter riders and the service providers but to all who live in our towns and cities. Just as with many new services, this will require ongoing reflection and review from everyone, including the general public and stakeholders and the path may not always be straightforward. I’m confident that building a strong body of independent research will allow policy makers, e-scooter advocates, as well as sceptics, to advance the dialogue and put forward legislation that best supports everyone.”

Josh Johnson, Public Policy Manager at Spin, adds: “The willingness to share independent research and learnings about the adoption of e-scooters with key stakeholders has become less of a priority for operators and this needs to change. Spin is committed to improving and advancing micromobility policy frameworks globally in the markets we operate in. These studies will give everyone fresh and actionable insights. We look forward to sharing best practices with stakeholders in the UK and beyond around how to best integrate e-scooters into local transport networks while maximising safety of all road users and provide communities with a green, fun and socially-distanced way to travel.”

Safe travel behaviour will be at the centre of research topics and will build on Spin's solid research-based policy work developed in the US over the past two years.

Josh adds: “Our top priority has always been rider safety. All operators have a responsibility to their riders to not only exceed vehicle safety standards but provide a platform to educate riders on safety best practices and how to be mindful of pedestrians and other road users.”

Preparation for the first piece of research is under way in Milton Keynes. This study will explore factors that influence road-user safety including:

● Where do e-scooter users ride most often (cycle lane, roadway, pavement) and why?

● How often do safety incidents occur, and what are common factors?

● What factors or conditions (i.e. cycling infrastructure, weather, traffic volume, etc…) impact real or perceived safety of e-scooters for users and for non-users?

The study will be informed by a diverse set of data sources including qualitative and quantitative consumer survey data and on-street AI and IoT sensor data of e-scooter interactions with pedestrians, cyclists and cars captured by Vivacity Lab’s sensors that are installed in the city. The researchers will also have access to anonymised e-scooter movement data (GPS).

Vivacity’s roadside sensors employ machine learning algorithms to detect near-miss incidents and are able to analyse movement patterns of vulnerable road-users such as cyclists and pedestrians, as well as non-connected vehicles. Such data will be invaluable to assess why near-misses may happen and what could be possibly done to minimise them. All data shared by the sensors is anonymised with video feeds discarded at source, enabling safer roads without intruding on privacy.

The research may include outputs such as a mapping of “safe routes” based on riding patterns and user feedback, and recommendations on how local authorities and operators could encourage riders towards a safer use of e-scooters. Recommendations may also include infrastructure improvements or other policy changes to enhance roadway safety for all users.

Find out more about WMG’s Human Factors research here.


Autonomous pods SWARM together like bees in world first demonstration

SWARM Autonomous pods born in Coventry are now able to swarm together in a world first, thanks to research by WMG at the University of Warwick in partnership with Aurrigo and Milton Keynes council.

With the concept of driverless pods now more realistic than futuristic, the vehicles are one step closer to being put to use, as they can now help each other to drive and navigate through pedestrian areas around people.

The concept of Swarming pods was well received by the public, with the ultimate idea of using an app to hail a pod, or a platoon of pods if travelling in a group, seen as the next evolution of personal and public transport.

The pods are designed for pedestrian areas and shared spaces, so public transport can be used on highways and the pods can be used as a “first and last mile service”.

Researchers at WMG integrated Swarm intelligence into the Pods by implementing swarming skills typically used by birds and insects.

The success of ‘swarming’ means that Pods can now schedule themselves to form a ‘platoon’, following each other when possible, to minimise the number of individual vehicle movements and the need for a supervisor per pod. In the future, it’s expected that a supervisor can watch several pods and report any unexpected behaviour.

The technology also enables the Pods, working within a fleet, to automatically optimise their behaviour to meet future passenger demand by distributing themselves within a city to the areas where they will most likely be requested.

Dr Roger Woodman, Associate Professor in human factors at WMG at the University of Warwick said:SWARM

“The SWARM algorithm has been tested and is proven to be effective and reliable. The ability to make pods ‘swarm’ together like a group of bees or birds, means they can coordinate with each other, bringing them one step closer to our streets.”

Simon Brewerton, Chief Technology Officer at Aurrigo, continued:

“The collaborative SWARM algorithms have been developed to enable our autonomous vehicles to optimise their own trip schedules, so they deliver the optimum efficiency from a fleet of vehicles.

“The swarming technology is very exciting and has the potential to operate large fleets of remotely supervised autonomous vehicles in a safe and scalable way. Interest in this will be huge.”


30 JANUARY 2020


About WMG, University of Warwick

WMG is a world leading research and education group, transforming organisations and driving innovation through a unique combination of collaborative research and development, and pioneering education programmes.

As an international role model for successful partnerships between academia and the private and public sectors, WMG develops advancements nationally and globally, in applied science, technology and engineering, to deliver real impact to economic growth, society and the environment.

WMG’s education programmes focus on lifelong learning of the brightest talent, from the WMG Academies for Young Engineers, degree apprenticeships, undergraduate and postgraduate, through to professional programmes.

An academic department of the University of Warwick, and a centre for the HVM Catapult, WMG was founded by the late Professor Lord Kumar Bhattacharyya in 1980 to help reinvigorate UK manufacturing and improve competitiveness through innovation and skills development.


About Aurrigo

Aurrigo, which created ten new jobs over the last twelve months, has seen demand for its driverless pods soar following the successful completion of major trials in the UK and across the world proved that its technology can deliver safe and efficient ‘first and last mile’ transport solutions.

Sales have come from customers in Australia, Canada, Finland, Singapore and the US, with the latest deal seeing one of its ‘Pod Zeros’ heading to China, a potential landmark moment for the Coventry-based business.
This growth takes its annual sales up to £4.2m and, with a strong pipeline of future orders in place, the company is predicting a further £6m of contracts between now and the end of 2020.

High-res images available credit to WMG, University of Warwick at:


Alice Scott
Media Relations Manager – Science
University of Warwick
Tel: +44 (0) 2476 574 255 or +44 (0) 7920 531 221


Thu 30 Jan 2020, 12:25 | Tags: NAIC Partnerships Research Human Factors