Ford Mobility: Detroit ADS Pilot Program
In 2019, The City of Detroit won a US Department of Transportation grant to
demonstrate a safe Advanced Driving System (ADS) by deploying a self-driving
shuttle service to serve older adults and people with disabilities through
collaboration with the community and leading mobility entities.
Research Design Consultant for
Co:Census, Seam Social Labs
Older adults and people with disabilities (PwD) in Detroit lack adequate access to
transportation solutions necessary to live a full and healthy life. In order to tackle this
multi-structural problem, the ADS program proposed a three-tiered solution:
1. Understand the unique needs of Detroit’s older adults and PwD populations
2. Acquire and extensively test an accessible ADS fleet
3. Deploy a pilot program in 1-2 Detroit neighborhoods
Ford Mobility partnered with the co:census team to lead focus groups with
stakeholders most impacted by the proposed ADS Pilot program between August
2-12, 2022. These conversations were centered around a Ford Automated Driving
System (ADS) Pilot for the Aging population and for people with disabilities and
aimed at understanding the challenges of the target population for the pilot, the
opportunities with an Automated Driving System (ADS), and at deriving the value
that can be gained from such a pilot.
During the focus group sessions, we identified three types of feedback:
1. Concern: A feeling of worry, anxiety, or doubt.
2. Opportunity: A potential gap or problem that ADS pilots can resolve.
3. Solution: An explicit idea from a stakeholder that can solve a problem.
By opting for this community-targeted focus group, the co:census team was able to
listen to these key stakeholders and pull out their biggest concerns, solutions, and
proposed opportunities for the ADS Pilot Program in Detroit.
The most-common concern that we heard was around logistics and operations of
the pilot program, which held a lot of intersections with concerns around rider
accessibility. Users of the proposed pilot program expressed concerns with needing
additional support with their mobility devices and carrying packages when entering
the vehicle. Participants also noted their concern around continuing to promote an
individual-vehicle solution for Detroit, instead of one that could reach the masses.
Focus group participants also mentioned various solutions that would aid in the
implementation of the ADS pilot program in their communities. Most notably,
participants mentioned the importance of identifying community liaisons and
spokespersons to build trust in the community pre-implementation.
Stakeholders noted that the ADS vehicle could act as an opportunity to build dignity
for riders going to pick up food at local food banks and other community services.
Finally, participants highlighted that the ADS vehicle must be flexible enough to
meet the varying and differing levels of disabilities of potential users.
The ADS pilot program was seen as an opportunity to receive door to door services
and a new expansion of life-saving services and resources for people with disabilities.
Participants noted the importance of building a routine and familiar rapport with the
person assisting you in your mobility journey, and requested that Ford and the City of
Detroit value these relationships with users when designing the pilot program.
My experience with Co:Census was so positive, in terms of process, outcomes, and
impact, that I actively looked for ways to engage them across additional projects before
we'd even completed the scope of work that was before us. They are not only experts in
their field (e.g., qualitative research design, implementation, and analysis, equitable
evaluative frameworks, human-centered design, etc.), they are also active partners in your
organization's learning journey. Learning from them, and alongside them, was a pleasure.
There just isn't a better combination than doing great work with great people. They will
forever be a part of my professional network.
-Dr. Alaina Jackson, Ford