A few months back, the beachfront of Adelaide in Australia witnessed the arrival of a smart transit hub named Matilda, which can communicate with driverless vehicles registered within its network. This is an attempt to provide people real-time information on the whereabouts of their ride around town, mainly tailored to cater to the needs of the disabled and the elderly, who might have trouble accessing shared public transport services.
SAGE Automation, the automation solution company behind the technology of Matilda, chose the southern Australian city of Adelaide for its first deployment, because the state was one of the earliest to introduce regulations allowing trials for autonomous vehicles on public roads. Matilda makes sense, because it can help organize driverless vehicle services and make it easy for people to get information on their rides and also in booking shuttle transit around the local area.
“Matilda is a smart transportation hub or a smart bus stop designed for this generation of smart mobility and connected vehicles. The purpose of Matilda is to bridge the community with self-driving cars and shuttles, and to help people understand the technology as well as inform them about how it works,” said Hugh Palmer, U.S. regional manager of smart mobility at SAGE Automation.
To bring this to fruition, SAGE Automation partnered with Local Motors – a company that builds and sells autonomous shuttle buses. While studying the autonomous vehicle landscape, the company realized that people were reluctant to step onto a self-driving vehicle because they did not know how it worked.
“The concept of a smart bus stop would address this and also help in inviting the community to start using public transport. We can use this technology to enable our disabled and elderly community, invite and give them the means to engage with autonomous vehicles in a more friendly and more accepting manner,” said Palmer. “Matilda is designed for people with a hearing handicap, visual impediment, or cognitive impairment. They can now be better facilitated to use public transportation independently.”
Matilda can accurately predict the arrival of autonomous shuttles to its location, based on the position of the vehicle, the speed at which it can move, and also based on the traffic conditions enroute. This helps people when they travel; they can make plans that are timed to the minute. Matilda is also portable, making it easy to be picked up by a forklift and moved to another location. “Matilda is environmentally conscious, equipped with self-sustaining solar panels for its energy needs. So there’s no need to plug it in or connect it to any energy utility source. This gives it an added measure of flexibility,” said Palmer.
For the disabled community, the smart hub has a variety of options that could assist them based on their impediment. For the hearing impaired, Matilda can directly relay messages to their hearing aid to keep them informed on the arrival of their vehicle. The system can also communicate using sign language to people who use it. An image of a person will appear on the screen, and the user can interact back and forth with each other using sign language.
Matilda first surfaced publicly at the Consumer Electronics Show 2018, where it was put up to demonstrate how technology could make the world more accessible for the elderly and the disabled. Palmer explained that the responses were very positive, with disabled people praising the product and saying that it was an answer to a lot of problems that the community faces when it tries engaging with public transport.
The initial response to Matilda across Adelaide has been endearing as well. Palmer mentioned that the idea is to expand the solution across smart cities that promote self-driving vehicle programs, as they are the first movers for the futuristic technology. “We will also promote the product in smart cities where there’s an interest in getting more of the community to engage with public transportation,” said Palmer.