Carnegie Mellon University

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November 29, 2018

Grant Helps Carnegie Mellon, University at Buffalo Improve Transit Access

Renewed federal grant supports research on transportation for people with disabilities

By Byron Spice

Byron Spice
  • School of Computer Science
  • 412-268-9982

A 10-year partnership between Carnegie Mellon University and the University at Buffalo to advance physical access and public transportation for people with disabilities has been extended for another five years.

The two universities' joint Rehabilitation Engineering Research Center (RERC) on Accessible Public Transportation has received a five-year, $4.6 million grant from the U.S. National Institute on Disability, Independent Living and Rehabilitation Research. The center develops ways to empower consumers, manufacturers and service providers in the design and evaluation of accessible transportation equipment, information services and physical environments.

"This new cycle of funding will include projects on making autonomous vehicles accessible and leveraging commercial artificial intelligence agents, such as Alexa and Google Home, to support people with disabilities," said Aaron Steinfeld, the center's principal investigator and an associate research professor at Carnegie Mellon's Robotics Institute, where he works on human-robot interaction and intelligent transportation systems.

Steinfeld co-directs the center with Jordana Maisel, the director of research activities at the University of Buffalo's Center for Inclusive Design and Environmental Access (IDeA). The IDeA Center improves the design of environments and products by making them more usable, safe and appealing to people with a wide range of abilities.

In the past, RERC researchers at the Robotics Institute have used a publicly deployed mobile app testbed, Tiramisu Transit, to examine how to best gather and provide information for a rider's trip. In parallel, the University of Buffalo has evaluated physical bus characteristics and the built environment to inform new vehicles, construction and rulemaking.

"The team has also had an active collaboration with industry, which we plan to continue and expand over the next five years," Maisel said.

In parallel with the RERC is the Disability Rehabilitation Research Project (DRRP) on Robotics and Automation for Inclusive Transportation, a five-year effort awarded to Carnegie Mellon in the fall of 2017 in coordination with the U.S. Department of Transportation Accessible Transportation Technologies Research Initiative (ATTRI). This project, which includes the University of Washington, is conducting research and development on seamless transportation assistance from cloud-based autonomy and shared robots located in and around transportation hubs.

For more information on the RERC on Accessible Public Transportation, visit the organization's website.