An autonomous vehicle company has begun a world first trial of its driverless pods with blind veterans and the charity that supports them.

Blind Veterans UK, the national charity for blind and vision-impaired ex-Service men and women, along with Aurrigo, launched the trial on Wednesday (06/03) to kick start their six month collaboration which will formally begin in April.

This is the first time Aurrigo have ever conducted a trial with veterans or people with a disability. Trialling the pod, which is named Arthur after Blind Veterans UK founder Sir Arthur Pearson, will give the veterans a taste of what it would be like to regain the independence of driving again.

Mark (pictured) was the first blind veteran to take part in the trial
“I was a motorcyclist and I used to race my car before losing my sight so it was a massive loss to lose my license. It was the hardest thing. Being able to make more journeys on your own independently would be absolutely fantastic and open up the world for blind and disabled people everywhere. It was an honour to have been the first one to make the journey.”
Mark, blind veteran

The route of the company’s ‘Pod Zero’, which can carry up to four people and travels at a maximum speed of 15mph, will follow the most popular parts of the Blind Veterans UK training and rehabilitation centre in Ovingdean, near Brighton.

The first blind veteran to take part in the trial was 51-year-old Mark from Saltdean in East Sussex. Mark lost his sight entirely in 1999 and has been supported by Blind Veterans UK ever since.

The vehicles are exploring the importance of voice activated controls, something Aurrigo piloted with IBM Watson at the recent Consumer Electronics Show (CES) in Las Vegas. It was designed 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.

Miles Garner, Sales and Marketing Director for Aurrigo, says: “Using info taken from our discussions with Guide Dogs, we have made some initial modifications to the pods to help the vision impaired, such as lighting and prominent colours on grab rails and seats. 

“This trial intended to see how the pods operated in a real-life environment and will help us evolve the pod and highlight any changes we need to incorporate into the design.

“The feedback from the blind veterans who take part will be a massive help to us in improving our pods and making them more user-friendly for the disabled community.”

Aurrigo are training members of the Blind Veterans UK transport team to assist veterans to use the pods.

“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."
Nick Caplin, Chief Executve

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