ICAV Cluster

BCU Leads Innovative VR Project to Enhance Automated Vehicle Safety for Deaf and Hard of Hearing Users in the UK

Automated vehicles are gaining popularity in the UK, but many designs are not accommodating for people with disabilities or special needs, posing safety challenges on British roads.

Dr. Wenge Xu, principal investigator and expert in human-computer interaction at Birmingham City University (BCU), believes technology can address these issues. 

“Drivers often communicate with pedestrians and cyclists using hand signals, head gestures, and eye contact,” said Dr Xu.

“But when humans are no longer in the driving seat, these traditional methods will be replaced by an External Human-Machine Interface (eHMI).”

Dr. Foroogh Hajiseyedjavadi, a lecturer in Civil Engineering at BCU, highlights the current gap: “Currently, there are no fully operational highly automated vehicles with eHMI capabilities on the roads.”

“However, ongoing development efforts have produced prototypes of eHMI designs. In this context, it becomes paramount to integrate considerations for disabled people.”

With 11 million deaf and hard of hearing people in the UK and 400 million globally, their needs are often overlooked in eHMI development. Dr. Xu emphasizes the importance of inclusive design: “By incorporating their needs into the design phase, we can ensure inclusivity and accessibility for all users, fostering a more equitable transportation landscape.”

BCU’s team will pioneer the use of VR and user-centred design to simulate interactions between deaf individuals and automated vehicles. “Current designs rely on audio cues that deaf people won’t be able to hear and digital signs that they may not be able to understand if their first language is British Sign Language” Dr. Xu explains. Using VR headsets, the team will immerse participants in realistic road scenarios to study their reactions.

The project, funded by a £70,000 grant from the Royal Society, will see Dr. Xu collaborate with major car manufacturers and charities. The ultimate goal is to create an inclusive interface suitable for all.

“When we have a design that meets the needs of deaf and hard of hearing people, we’ll explore how this can be extended to people with other disabilities,” Dr. Xu said.

Professor Hanifa Shah, Pro-Vice-Chancellor and Executive Dean of BCU’s Faculty of Computing, Engineering and the Built Environment, supports the project: “Here at BCU, we believe it’s important to apply our expertise in advanced technologies to solve problems and make a difference to people’s lives,” she said. “This project is a wonderful example of our ‘knowledge in action’ approach. We look forward to seeing how we can create safer streets for deaf people through this vital research project.”

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