Researchers to advance public transit access via high-tech design

Posted on October 28, 2013

Researchers at Carnegie Mellon University and the University at Buffalo, State University of New York, are collaborating on a five-year, $4.6 million federally funded project to advance physical access and public transportation for people with disabilities by bringing together computer science technology and the principles of universal design.

The Rehabilitation Engineering Research Center (RERC) on Accessible Public Transportation has received a new grant from the U.S. Department of Education's National Institute on Disability and Rehabilitation Research (NIDRR) that extends the existing five-year grant that concludes this year.

The center will develop ways to empower consumers, manufacturers and service providers in the design and evaluation of accessible transportation equipment, information services and physical environments.

The center's principal investigator, Aaron Steinfeld, an associate research professor at Carnegie Mellon's Robotics Institute, works on human-robot interaction and intelligent transportation systems in the Quality of Life Technology (QoLT) Center, headquartered at Carnegie Mellon.

Steinfeld will co-direct the center with his father, Edward Steinfeld, a professor of architecture at the University at Buffalo who heads the 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. The center is a world leader in universal design, an important component of the new RERC's work.

"Universal design is a human-centered approach to design and business practices focused on creating a more convenient, comfortable, healthier and safer environment for everyone," Edward Steinfeld said. "It extends the lessons learned in design for disability to all riders, recognizing that the transportation environment presents challenges for all. It not only increases social integration for people who have physical and mental challenges but, by doing so, reduces costs by removing the burden of providing special services, facilities and products."

Researchers at Carnegie Mellon will use Tiramisu Transit, an app developed under the prior RERC, to understand how real-time trip information and community dialogue can empower accessible travel. Buffalo researchers will continue design research to make boarding and disembarking buses faster, safer and more accessible.

Another project will leverage existing technologies supported by the Traffic21 program at Carnegie Mellon to develop software systems to help riders during multi-modal trips. Collaborations with industry also are planned, continuing the team's prior work on vehicle designs with Gillig Corp. and starting a new effort with the Dallas Smith Corp. The Niagara Frontier Transportation Authority in Buffalo, N.Y., and the Port Authority of Allegheny County in Pittsburgh continue to assist the researchers as they develop new technologies and concepts.

For more information on the RERC on Accessible Public Transportation, see

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