Autonomous Vehicle Research Group Logo

The Autonomous Vehicle Research Group at the VEMI Lab explores applications of emerging transportation technology for today’s unique accessibility needs. Representing a cross-institutional collaboration between The University of Maine, Northeastern University, and Colby College, the group leverages more than a decade of user-driven assistive technology research with domain-specific expertise in computer vision and natural language processing for navigation. By developing an end-to-end mobility solution using fully autonomous vehicles as the core transportation platform, outcomes of the group’s work are expected to extend the benefits of increased mobility, independence, and quality of life not only for those who are limited by current transportation solutions, but for all users.

Inclusive Design Challenge

Logo for the U.S. DOT’s Inclusive Design Challenge featuring symbols for automated vehicles and the disability community.

VEMI and AVR’s final presentation for the U.S DOT’s Inclusive Design Challenge

In 2022, VEMI and AVR participated in the U.S. Department of Transportation’s Inclusive Design Challenge focused on innovative design solutions to enable people with physical, sensory, and cognitive disabilities to use automated vehicles to access jobs, healthcare, and other critical destinations. The Challenge sought solutions to improve passenger vehicle accessibility, encourage cross-disciplinary collaborations, incentivize development of new designs and technologies, and tap into the creativity and knowledge of the disability community, researchers, advocates, and entrepreneurs.

For the challenge, the AVR team developed the Autonomous Vehicle Assistant (AVA), an innovative ride-hailing and localization smartphone application designed to seamlessly assist passengers with visual impairment and older adults during pre-journey planning, travel to pick-up locations, and vehicle entry. We strongly believe the outcomes from this project will extend the benefits of autonomous transportation to these groups, thereby accelerating the universally-designed transportation of the future.

The VEMI AVR proposal was selected as one of 10 semifinalists in this national competition and ultimately awarded $300,000 as one of the three final prize winners.

Learn more about AVA and the IDC in the videos at right. 

Watch a quick demonstration of AVR’s app: AVA

AVR in the News

Autonomous Vehicle Research Group Members

With Support from our Expert Advisory Board:

David Barnwell: Executive Director, the Iris Network

Mike May: Chief Evangelist, GoodMaps LLC

Sherry Belka: President, the ACB of Maine

Katherine Freund: Founder and President, ITN America