Seung Woo Hwangbo, a doctoral student in the UF Department of Occupational Therapy affiliated with the Institute for Mobility, Activity, and Participation (I-MAP), is working in collaboration with the University of Alabama at Birmingham, and the City of Gainesville, on a project which looks at the perceptions of younger and middle-aged drivers toward autonomous vehicle technology.
Occupational Therapists (OTs) in general focus on assisting people of all ages to live life to its fullest by helping them cope better with injury, illness, or a disability. At UF, OTs are exploring whether AV technology can help those with limited mobility so that they can maintain or restore their independence.
“If engineers focus on the technological aspects and the advancement of AVs, then we, OTs, focus on humans, and we see the interactions between humans and AV technology,” Hwangbo said. “We educate and train people to optimize the use of AV technology.”
The project, “Phase 2 Demonstration Study: Developing a Model to Support Transportation System Decisions Considering the Experiences of Drivers of all Age Groups with Autonomous Vehicle Technology,” is funded by the Southeastern Transportation Research, Innovation, Development, and Education (STRIDE) Center. STRIDE is the 2016 U.S. Department of Transportation grant-funded Regional (Southeastern) University Transportation Center (UTC) housed at the UFTI.
A Phase I of this project, which was also funded by the STRIDE Center, focused on understanding older drivers’ (65 years+) perceptions, values, beliefs, and attitudes regarding emerging autonomous vehicle technology. The focus of this current Phase II project is to observe and evaluate not only how younger (18 to 39 year old) and middle-aged (40 to 64 years old) drivers perceive autonomous vehicles, but their values and attitudes toward the emerging technology.
Participants in Phase II of the study will be exposed to a simulated automated driving scenario. They will also ride on the City of Gainesville’s Easymile (EZ10) autonomous shuttle, which is fully operational in the downtown area. The city’s autonomous shuttle is considered a Level 4 by the Society of Automotive Engineers. Level 4 means that no human action is required to drive the vehicle, although on the Gainesville shuttle, an attendant will be available at all times. Hwangbo, and the team of researchers led by Dr. Sherrilene Classen, chair of the UF Department of Occupational Therapy, will analyze data from both phases of the study to better understand perceptions of automated vehicles for drivers across the lifespan.
“A Society of Automotive Engineers automated vehicle Level 4 or higher will liberate individuals from driving,” Hwangbo said. “Individuals will become passengers, and they will be able to engage in other tasks besides driving, such as reading newspapers or preparing for meetings. Also, individuals living with disabilities, those who are transportation disadvantaged, and unskilled drivers could benefit from automated vehicles.”
The research team will analyze data from both phases of the study to better understand perceptions of automated vehicles for drivers across the lifespan. Currently, Hwangbo is responsible for recruiting participants for the study and completing baseline testing that will consist of surveys on participants’ demographics, driving history, and previous experience with technology. Due to COVID-19, precautions and guidelines prescribed by the CDC are strictly being followed.
Phase II study findings may provide important insights into drivers’ willingness to accept and adopt this emerging technology. It is expected that Phase II will be completed by July 2021.