Innovation

Blind Veterans Test Driverless Vehicles

A six-month trial of the driverless pods begins in April.

A special trial is being undertaken in which blind veterans are testing driverless pods.

It is hoped the trial will offer viable options for those who can no longer drive.

It will run for six months from April and it is said to be the first time those with a vision impairment will be trialling the pods themselves.

An area being explored through the testing is the impact of voice-activated controls.

The trial is a research collaboration with the manufacturer of the vehicles.

Named 'Arthur' after Blind Veterans UK founder Sir Arthur Pearson, 'Pod Zero' can carry up to four people, and travels at a maximum speed of 15 mph.

It will run around the most popular parts of the Blind Veterans UK training and rehabilitation centre in Ovingdean, near Brighton.

Renata Gomes, Head of Research and Innovation Blind Veterans UK, said: "This is very important for us because when I surveyed our blind veterans, 98% of them, irrelevant of age or gender - the thing they miss doing the most was driving.

"When we looked further into it, of why driving, it was because driving gave them independence, and they really miss their independence."

Despite the trial not beginning until April, veterans at Blind Veterans UK in Ovingdean were given the chance to ride in one of the four-seater pods before testing begins.

Veteran Mark Threadgold said it is "a fantastic idea": "The driving for me was one of the things I missed the most.

"It is an instant loss of independence. Being an electronics engineer as well, this has got everything I am interested in.

"The thing for me is when it gets on to the main roads, and you can get the independence... at the minute, using public transport - I am totally blind so I have to know the route to the bus stop I am going to use, the route from the bus stop at the other end to where I am going to.

"So with something like this would be great to get the app on your phone - come and pick me up, take me to the Apple shop and literally drop me at the door.

"To be able to do that independently on your own would be just amazing."

The pods are named after Blind Veterans UK founder, Sir Arthur Pearson.

The Chief Executive of Blind Veterans UK, Major General (Rtd) Nick Caplin CB, said:

“So many of the blind veterans we support say that not being able to drive is one of the most significant things that hits you when you lose your sight."

"It’s another way of losing independence and can make people more isolated.

“Anything Blind Veterans UK can do to assist and feedback on with this new technology will hopefully benefit the lives of our veterans and the wider disabled community in the years to come.”

The pod was developed with the consultation of another sight loss charity, Guide Dogs, and designed to best suit the needs of people who are blind or vision impaired.

The trial is a research collaboration with the manufacturer of the vehicles, Aurrigo.

It is said to be the first time those with a vision impairment will be trialing the pods themselves.

Richard Fairchild, Aurrigo's Operations Director, said: "We have got a group of people here, who are absolutely up for a challenge.

"You talk to ex-forces people and it's like, there are no problems - there are just solutions waiting to be found.

"Those are the kind of people we need, because I think we are going to make a lot of progress in a short period of time."