The Next Generation Mobility Challenge, hosted by the Toyota focused on inclusive mobility design for socially vulnerable populations
To minimize the uncertainty and anxiety experienced by differently abled people in getting from A to B
Experience design, inclusive design
Toyota had defined 3 different personas for the hackathon and encouraged us to choose one. We chose Nina since she faces some challenges that our team of 3 was passionate about: she is a professional who travels everyday but is highly dependent on the paratransit since her arms and legs have limited mobility
After studying the persona, we set out to uncover the peaks and troughs in Nina’s journey map. The peaks corresponded to parts of the journey where Nina felt comfortable, secure and welcome. The troughs were instances where Nina felt anxious or uncomfortable in her surroundings.
We discovered the following troughs:
1 Difficulty faced in planning the trip due to the unpredictable nature of terrain, traffic and bus timings
2 The social discomfort experienced in travelling with people and surroundings where differently abled people are treated differently than the rest
3 Nina’s options are severely limited if she misses her paratransit bus
4 Last mile access on a wheelchair becomes a struggle if it’s a rainy day or a bumpy sidewalk
5 The ramifications of Nina being late to work over a sustained period of time may hurt her professional credibility
We discovered the following peaks:
1 She likes to listen to her favorite music
2 She likes to engage in friendly conversation with people around her
With these points in mind, we wanted to design an inclusive and convenient system of transportation that works in a regular and predictable manner. Our team aimed to amplify the peaks and sustain them over several touchpoints, but these would mean little if we did not minimize or completely eliminate the troughs. In designing the solution, we had these goals in mind.
We started by looking at how we can improve the existing paratransit system. Beginning with an upgraded, wider door with assisted entry and exit, we brainstormed as far as to how we could enhance paratransit’s GPS abilities and couple it with a mobile app to build a ride-sharing paratransit system.
However, we soon realized the pitfalls that come with a system like this. Since a paratransit usually seats about 10 people, a ride-sharing paradigm could potentially hurt the efficiency of the route if the driver was to shuttle between 10 different houses. On the flipside, if there weren’t enough people to fill the paratransit, that would incur more cost per trip to the organization.
Sprinting towards autonomy
In our second sprint, we wanted to attempt a reimagined mode of transportation. Armed with useful insights from the first sprint and racing against time in the day long hackathon, we chose to be audacious.
Autonomous vehicles are the future and we figured that if we were designing for the future, we might as well create a feasible solution that is also future-proof. An autonomous pod seemed like a novel idea as we looked deeper in the crystal ball. Used in concert with a an autonomous wheelchair further enhances the experience. Quickly whiteboarding our solution, we immediately got very excited. However, the same problems from the first iteration continued to plague our design solution.
Then came the breakthrough.
One of the team members proposed an autonomous pod which is not actually a paratransit but a regular mode of public transport with special accommodations for differently abled people. Since this would automatically attract more people than a dedicated paratransit, the higher volume of people solved both our qualms about the first iteration. In addition, this promotes inclusivity by having people of all abilities sit on adjacent seats and share the same travel experience.
Here is the user journey we designed:
1 Nina requests a ride in a pod from her phone
2 The pod is alerted to about the request
3 Nina’s autonomous wheelchair knows when the pod is arriving
4 It apprises Nina of the ETA via audio cues
5 Once the pod is outside the door, the wheelchair drives itself to the pod
6 “Hi Nina!” says the pod via audio and display
7 Inside the pod, a path lights up to make Nina comfortable as her wheelchair drives itself to the nearest available spot
8 Nina can relax as the pod drives her to her destination. Her favorite music synced to her chair and she can talk to fellow passengers on her way