Self-Driving Taxi for People with Restricted Mobility Wins Ford ‘New Designers’ Award


Travelling by car or on public transport can be challenging for people with limited mobility. Each year in the UK, disabled adults make 26 percent fewer trips than adults without a disability. 

Image supplied by Ford South Africa

Now, Calum Gambrill, a Product and Industrial Design student from Ravensbourne University, London, has developed a solution that could provide disabled people and senior citizens with an affordable self-driving taxi service to get around cities.

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The “Embark” concept has won the “Ford Design Award”, part of the “New Designers 2021 Awards” – the largest design graduate show in the UK. The Ford Award challenged design students to take a human-centric approach to autonomous vehicle concepts, imagining the user experience in terms of interiors, lighting, accessibility and entertainment.

“The future is a designer's dream. I’m happy to see young people from different creative industries thinking out of the box. We need to embrace unknown things in order to create new inspirational experiences in the car,”

said Amko Leenarts, director of Design, Ford of Europe.

“Embark” is envisioned as an accessible and inclusive taxi service, utilising a dedicated app and a fleet of electric self-driving vehicles. The user hails the vehicle with the app, then enters via a side door ramp. The onboard Wi-Fi enables passengers to access the internet and listen to music during the journey. The vehicle would also be connected with other autonomous vehicles to calculate the most efficient routes and find available parking. Payment would be per kilometre or through a monthly subscription service.

“The real human rights insights identified by Calum made his entry a standout for us, as ‘Embark’ embraces human-centred design. He also identified an opportunity area for autonomous vehicles, which seems a great match for the needs he defined, illustrating the incredible scope for change this technology can provide,”

said Usha Raghavachari, lab director at D-Ford - the company’s group of global creative innovation labs that look from two to 15 years into the future and take a human-centered approach to problem solving and design.

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For his winning concept, Gambrill receives £1,000 (€1,160) to support the development of his design career, plus two months of mentoring from designers at D-Ford. The judging panel included Leenarts and Raghavachari, along with Betsy Fields-Smith, director of IDEO, and James McLachlan, editor of Car Design News.

“Design concepts which are truly driven by insight into people's unmet needs are the ones that tend to have the most meaningful impact. Focusing on a user group which public transit often fails, therefore, feels very worthwhile, and most emblematic of Ford’s human-centered design process and values,”

Fields-Smith said.

The runners-up were an interior design concept from Olivia Goldsmith incorporating an interactive dashboard, mood lighting and glow-in-the-dark seats; and a bubble seat from Lili Chen that adapts to every human body shape to reduce fatigue and increase comfort. Other entries included interiors that utilise ethical and recycled materials, emphasise mental health and well-being, and are interactive to offer a sense of fun and play.

“While many of the submissions focused on materials and lighting design, the one that put forward a mobility system stood out, as it offers a solution to a tangible problem: improve the prospects of disabled people wishing to travel, a problem pertinent to London and other big cities where the mass transit systems are less than adequate for this often-marginalised section of society,”

McLachlan said.

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