Developing self-driving cars to give people the opportunity to travel independently

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Older man using human machine interace in a driverless car

What was needed

Ageing is often accompanied by physical and cognitive impairments, or long-term health conditions which, in turn, can limit access to the outside world without assistance. This can cause older people to feel withdrawn from society, leaving them without regular human contact which can have a detrimental impact on their health.

Older people who are unable to drive lack the ability to make spontaneous choices and may struggle to maintain their independence without the use of a car. This means that some older adults experience loneliness and reduced social activity.

The Flourish project aimed to develop user-centric autonomous [driverless] vehicle technology and connected transport systems to enhance travel independence.


Connected Autonomous Vehicles (CAVs) are vehicles which have the ability to drive themselves. They are driverless. Autonomous vehicles seek to improve road safety, reduce vehicle emissions, improve travel efficiency through reduction in road congestion and enable more people to travel.

Human Machine Interfaces (HMIs) are used to control the function of a product so that it performs as intended by the user.

Who could benefit?

According to Age UK (2019) over 3.6 million people over the age of 75 years live alone in the UK. Autonomous vehicles offer the opportunity to reduce loneliness by providing a tool for older adults to travel, therefore supporting them to carry out everyday tasks, as well as do the things they love when they want to.

In addition, autonomous vehicles present a more accessible platform for road travel so that even people who have never driven or are unable to drive due to health reasons (such as those living with reduced mobility or visual impairment) can travel independently.

Our role in the project

Designability has been responsible for the design and development of the vehicle HMI. The Flourish HMI is a screen within the vehicle which the user interacts with in order to define their journey (destination, stops, route preference etc.). It also provides information to the user about their journey and vehicle, during travel.

Utilising their wealth of experience and expertise in user centered design; our design team applied their skills and knowledge to the design process in order to understand the needs of older adults. These desires were captured and translated into design features.

User engagement was an essential part of the project. We designed the HMI and defined the user-interface interactions. The design process was iterative; we developed the design, prototyped and reviewed the device with older adults at various points during the design process. We worked closely with project partners who prototyped the HMI and carried out testing both in simulators and on the road, to explore the effectiveness of it during travel.

Our ultimate goal has been to deliver a HMI which is accessible and flexible to the needs of older adults, which in turn leads to an enhanced and enjoyable travel experience.

Our outcomes

Our hope is that autonomous vehicle manufacturers utilise our learnings to create a user-friendly experience for older adults. To effectively capture the learnings and discoveries from the project, we created a report and accompanying website which features information on user centered design, our process, and 10 insights for designing effective HMIs for older adults.

In addition to this, we produced a series of videos which demonstrate the interface features of our HMI design.

Both the full set of insights and demos are now available to view.


We worked closely with Connected Places Catapult, the University of the West of England and Cardiff University to develop the HMI and to test the design with potential users.

A special thanks to our key partners who supported us with this project:

  • The University of the West of England and Cardiff University led the user research trials.
  • Connected Places Catapult developed the HMI software.
  • Traverse delivered public engagement, focus groups and interviews.
  • Age UK supported social research for the project.
  • Driving Assessment Centre, Bristol supported public engagement work.

The Flourish project was funded by Innovate UK as part of the Intelligent Mobility Fund. Designability’s work has also been supported by the Road Safety Trust.