A wheelchair-user has successfully tested a system that allows an unoccupied car to be parked after its driver has left the vehicle, using technology that could be publicly available within a year.
The organisations developing the system, demonstrated in the last few days at a hotel in Greenwich, London, believe it could make life far easier for drivers who are wheelchair-users, who often find it difficult to secure suitable parking spaces.
The system allows a driver to stop, remove themselves and their wheelchair from the car, and then use the technology to park the unoccupied vehicle remotely.
It was tested by freelance mobility consultant Toby Veall (pictured), who drove to the hotel, before leaving the Toyota Prius and removing his wheelchair, and calling up the support of an operator to park his vehicle for him remotely, using 3G and 4G cellular technology developed by telecommunications provider O2.
For locations like underground carparks that don’t have cellular reception, the wheelchair-user can park the vehicle using an app on a tablet device, using in-car wi-fi.
Veall said the system had huge potential for increasing disabled people’s independence.
He said: “I think it’s a really exciting prospect for the future, and hopefully it is sooner rather than later.”
One of the main problems facing drivers who use wheelchairs is finding a suitable parking space, he said.
This can be because other cars park too close – particularly when there are no accessible spaces available – so the doors cannot be opened wide enough to allow a wheelchair to be removed or stowed, or due to uneven surfaces like gravel or grass, and hazards such as steep kerbs or slopes.
Veall said: “The use of a simple app to remotely park the car would be warmly welcomed by myself and many others with mobility problems and help to remove parking anxieties and improve independence.
“The more I think about it, the more potential uses I can think of.”
The “teleoperated autonomous vehicle service for people with reduced mobility” has been developed as part of the GATEway (Greenwich Automated Transport Environment) project.
The two-year, £8 million research programme, led by TRL (the formerly government-owned transport research laboratory) and funded by government and industry – including O2 and robotics specialists Gobotix – aims to investigate the use of automated vehicles, including automated passenger shuttles and urban deliveries, and test how drivers of regular vehicles respond to the presence of automated vehicles on the roads.
Dr Ben Davis, technical director of Gobotix, said: “Everybody is waiting for the arrival of fully automated vehicles, but there’s a lot that vehicle manufacturers can be doing already with existing technology to help improve accessibility and mobility for older and disabled drivers.
“Many modern cars can be adapted so that they are driveable by a remote pilot and what we’ve demonstrated as part of GATEway is proof of that.
“By offering a remote teleoperation service, we can remove common concerns around boarding and alighting.
“It’s about empowering those with reduced mobility to retain independence through the use of technology.”
He said the system could be available to disabled drivers within a year.
He said: “The technology is inherently simple to install.
“In fact, in a lot of vehicles they probably wouldn’t have to add anything to the vehicle apart from the software that enables this to be possible.
“If the appetite among the automotive manufacturers was there, there is no reason why this couldn’t be available to consumers within 12 months.”