- Start date: 1 February 2020
- End date: 31 January 2023
- Funder: Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC)
- Value: £505,394
- Primary investigator: Professor Ed Manley
To capture the full social and economic benefits of AI, new technologies must be sensitive to the diverse needs of the whole population. This means understanding and reflecting the complexity of individual needs, the variety of perceptions, and the constraints that might guide interaction with AI. This challenge is no more relevant than in building AI systems for older populations, where the role, potential, and outstanding challenges are all highly significant.
The RAIM (Responsible Automation for Inclusive Mobility) project will address how on-demand, electric autonomous vehicles (EAVs) might be integrated within public transport systems in the UK and Canada to meet the complex needs of older populations, resulting in improved social, economic, and health outcomes. The research integrates a multidisciplinary methodology - integrating qualitative perspectives and quantitative data analysis into AI-generated population simulations and supply optimisation.
Throughout the project, there is a firm commitment to interdisciplinary interaction and learning, with researchers being drawn from urban geography, ageing population health, transport planning and engineering, and artificial intelligence. The RAIM project will produce a diverse set of outputs that are intended to promote change and discussion in transport policymaking and planning.
As a primary goal, the project will simulate and evaluate the feasibility of an on-demand EAV system for older populations. This requires advances around the understanding and prediction of the complex interaction of physical and cognitive constraints, preferences, locations, lifestyles and mobility needs within older populations, which differs significantly from other portions of society. With these patterns of demand captured and modelled, new methods for meeting this demand through optimisation of on-demand EAVs will be required.
The project will adopt a forward-looking, interdisciplinary approach to the application of AI within these research domains, including using Deep Learning to model human behaviour, Deep Reinforcement Learning to optimise the supply of EAVs, and generative modelling to estimate population distributions.
A second component of the research involves exploring the potential adoption of on-demand EAVs for ageing populations within two regions of interest. The two areas of interest - Manitoba, Canada, and the West Midlands, UK - are facing the combined challenge of increasing older populations with service issues and reducing patronage on existing services for older travellers. The RAIM project has established partnerships with key local partners, including local transport authorities - Winnipeg Transit in Canada, and Transport for West Midlands in the UK - in addition to local support groups and industry bodies. These partnerships will provide insights and guidance into the feasibility of new AV-based mobility interventions, and a direct route to influencing future transport policy.
As part of this work, the project will propose new approaches for assessing the economic case for transport infrastructure investment, by addressing the wider benefits of improved mobility in older populations. At the heart of the project is a commitment to enhancing collaboration between academic communities in the UK and Canada. RAIM puts in place opportunities for cross-national learning and collaboration between partner organisations, ensuring that the challenges faced in relation to ageing mobility and AI are shared. RAIM furthermore will support the development of a next generation of researchers, through interdisciplinary mentoring, training, and networking opportunities.
There are a number of potential beneficiaries for this research, and the project has established partnerships with policymakers, stakeholders, and industry bodies to ensure impact is maximised. These beneficiaries can be broadly grouped into the following categories: Local Transport Authorities and Government - Through partnerships established through the project, the local transport authorities in Manitoba and the West Midlands will gain access to project outputs (data, reports, analyses, new methods, and models).
These outputs will help inform future policymaking on older population mobility, and promote long-term planning for new travel mode integration. More broadly, the research developed during the project will be of benefit to local transport authorities worldwide, given both the global context of ageing populations, and the broad scope of the research setting that captures both urban and rural needs in two diverse contexts. The project will furthermore contribute towards discourse around the economic value of transport investments in relation to older populations, and highlight the wider benefits of investment to local society, economy, and government spending. Broader links will be achieved through research dissemination in the form of reports, presentations, and events, that highlight the potential for this research.
Project partner CUTRIC (Canadian Urban Transit Research & Innovation Consortium) will be central to enhancing the reach of the project findings and outputs. Local Citizens - The research will benefit older populations in Manitoba and the West Midlands in particular, through the design of a transportation service which meets mobility needs while minimising constraints and barriers to use. The project will explore the economic case for investment in an electric autonomous vehicle (EAV) demand responsive transit (DRT) system, which accounts for more than typical values on economic growth.
The project will also provide opportunities for local citizens to learn more about AVs, and assess their potential benefits. More broadly, the adoption of such technology, will have a benefit for all local citizens, by promoting inter-generational interaction, and reducing care burdens on family members. Links to older populations in our regions of interest will be made directly through partnership with local support groups (e.g., Transportation Options Networks for Seniors). Non-Profit Organisations - In the same way that the research will benefit local populations, RAIM will provide non-profit organisations the evidence and tools needed for campaign effectively for new approaches to older mobility.
The research will produce improved methods for meeting the mobility needs of older populations with automation, and provide a framework for making the economic case for public intervention. These benefits will be realised through provision of materials on the project website, and through the final project meeting, to which we will invite wider participation from these groups (via CUTRIC and the University of Manitoba Centre for Ageing), to be held in Winnipeg. Autonomous Vehicle Manufacturers - By identifying pathways to improving the provision of EAVs to an older population, this research represents a new market for AV manufacturers.
In developing a case for intervention, local governments (beyond Manitoba and the West Midlands) will require suppliers of an EAV DRT service, resulting in both vehicle sales and ongoing maintenance contracts. This market presents potentially stronger early economic opportunity than appealing to private ownership, which is currently cost prohibitive. Opportunities for engaging with these groups will be formed through our project partner CUTRIC, an organisation to promote research translation in Canada.