Inclusive design for wheelchair EV

Inclusive design for wheelchair EV

Technology News |
By Nick Flaherty

UK automotive design house Callum has developed a concept electric vehicle (EV) for wheelchair users.

The eVITA accessible and versatile electric vehicle (EV) concept was developed with Callum to demonstrate what is possible with inclusive design and engineering, making significant changes to the battery pack, lighting and infotainment systems.

Motability Operations, which supplies wheelchair adapted vehicles in the UK, identified over 34,000 users of wheelchair accessible vehicles (WAVs) in the UK could be left behind in the transition to EVs if the automotive industry does not take action and collaborate to design and manufacture inclusive vehicles

The reengineered EV battery supports wheelchair access requirements, improves the seating position and increases visibility and a new tailgate design incorporates an automated ramp for wheelchair access, a key functional requirement of Motability Scheme customers

In many EVs, the floor-mounted battery reduces internal height and space within the cabin and also limits the available payload. This would lead to customers in a wheelchair having to opt for larger vehicles than they need when switching to electric.

“Today, electric vehicles are not offering the functionality and flexibility required by WAV users,” says Ian Callum, design director. “OEMs, their designers and engineers must plan ahead and embrace inclusive design principles to ensure that WAV users and disabled people are not forgotten in the transition to EVs. With eVITA, form and functionality have been developed in parallel, resulting in a well-considered, user-friendly EV that is both practical and stylish.”

Critical to the design of eVITA is the positioning of the battery. Led by engineering director Adam Donfrancesco, the Callum engineering team has repackaged the EV battery, rearranging the internal components to reduce its overall height. With the reengineered battery pack positioned under the floor behind the first row of seats, the design ensures that the floor between the vehicle tailgate and front row is completely flat. This allows a wheelchair to smoothly travel from the ramped entrance through the interior and be positioned closer to other occupants. Where possible, lightweight materials have been used to offset the payload requirements for onboard equipment.

This packaging design has allowed for a ride height of 160mm, which is akin to that of a hatchback. This contributes to easier access and increased headroom. It also means that the wheelchair user has an improved, lower seating position in the cabin, which was important for many Motability Scheme customers. Having wheelchair users at a similar height to other vehicle occupants helps them to feel more connected to other passengers and also improves visibility.

eVITA features two charging ports – one on the nearside rear and a lower, front-mounted option for ease of access for all users. The vehicle’s 50kWh battery provides an anticipated range of around 200 miles.

The battery positioning has also contributed to a lower centre of gravity for improved ride and cornering ability. eVITA features a highly damped rear suspension for predictable handling, balancing a comfortable and supple ride with control to minimise roll whilst navigating roundabouts, speed bumps and potholes.

Additionally, customers stressed the common frustration of other motorists parking too close to the rear, making it difficult – and often impossible – to lower the access ramp when returning to their vehicle. To alert other motorists while parked, eVITA uses energy-efficient LED puddle lights to visually project onto the ground the essential space required for the extended ramp at the rear of the vehicle.

“The transition to electric simply won’t work unless it’s accessible for all,” says Andrew Miller, chief executive of Motability Operations. “We have the largest fleet in the UK and three quarters of a million disabled customers who rely on their vehicles for their independence. Our customers aren’t the typical early EV adopters, they’re more representative of the wider population, and we know from first-hand insight what the challenges of having an EV will be for everyone. Without solutions and an equitable switch to electric, thousands of people could be left behind.

“This is most pressing for our customers who use wheelchair accessible vehicles as they don’t have an obvious or affordable solution to transition to a smaller EV. We were determined to find a way forward, and I’m absolutely delighted that we have developed the eVITA concept with CALLUM that genuinely has accessibility and inclusivity at the heart of its design, demonstrating what is possible. We’re sharing our knowledge and understanding with the industry – manufacturers, designers and engineers – to support an EV transition that works for everyone.”

The wheelbase of 2,980mm, eVITA measures 4,520mm in length, 1,908mm in width and 1,800mm in height is to address wishes for a more compact footprint than is currently available.

The cabin has two front and two rear doors, with the rear sliding doors featuring accessible release buttons. eVITA features a split tailgate – the upper section acting as an extension to the roof to keep users dry when entering and exiting in wet weather – with electronic door opening system. A wide, low angle ramp automatically extends from inside, with a winch aiding wheelchair users’ entry into the vehicle cabin. The tailgate is a critical functional feature of the eWAV and an area where Scheme customers really emphasised the need for easy operation.

A key requirement was access to all the infotainment, heating and air conditioning controls and features, as often all these are located in and only benefit those in the front of a vehicle. The solution is a modular ‘utility bar’ in the rear of eVITA that provides easy access to all these functions, ensuring the occupant has full control and independence. Fully customisable, the utility bar also includes charging ports for personal devices, and can feature hooks for hanging coats or bags, as well as easy-to-reach storage, such as cup holders.

“The CALLUM team is incredibly proud to reveal eVITA and to work with Motability Operations on such an important project that has the potential to positively impact so many lives, supporting Motability Scheme customers with freedom and enjoyment of travel as society transitions to electric. Through this project we’ve leveraged our innovative design skills and engineering ingenuity within the CALLUM business to challenge the industry to be more inclusive and equitable for a more positive future,” said Callum managing director David Fairbairn


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