Inclusive Design Challenge - The United States Department of Transportation (DOT)


Creative Ideas

Location (s):

  • Online
  • United States of America


This Challenge seeks inclusive solutions, referring to features and designs that enable access to and use of a vehicle by people with a wide range of physical, sensory and cognitive disabilities. Technology has already changed how most of us get around. This Challenge seeks to ensure that these new technology-driven mobility options are inclusive of all Americans.



An estimated 25.5 million Americans experience a travel-limiting disability that impacts their access to employment, medical care, and other activities of daily living. The current COVID-19 pandemic has further highlighted the critical need for vulnerable populations to have on-demand transportation services to access healthcare, pharmacies, grocery stores, and other essential services. Automated vehicles, particularly those designed to be operated exclusively by Level 4 and Level 5 Automated Driving Systems (ADS), hold great promise to enhance freedom of movement for these individuals. However, fulfilling this promise will require innovation and creativity, not only in how vehicles drive themselves, but also in how all users access and interact with them.

Through the Inclusive Design Challenge, the United States Department of Transportation (DOT) seeks innovative, inclusive design features to enable people with physical, sensory, and cognitive disabilities to use automated vehicles, particularly ADS-dedicated vehicles (ADS-DV) that are operated exclusively at Levels 4 and 5 (see Notes on Terminology below for additional detail on terms used throughout this Challenge). Solutions must address one or more aspects of ADS-DV use - such as locating and entering an ADS-DV or interacting with the vehicle in routine and emergency situations - through physical hardware and/or human-machine interface (HMI) designs. Individuals and teams will compete for an overall prize purse of up to $5,000,000 in a two-stage competition. In Stage I, DOT solicits brief technical proposals for inclusive design features that could then be demonstrated in prototype form by semifinalists in Stage II.

By using a prize competition format, DOT seeks to draw attention to the topic of passenger vehicle accessibility; encourage new cross-disciplinary collaborations; incentivize the development of new approaches and technologies to improve mobility; and tap into the creativity and knowledge of the disability community, researchers, advocates, manufacturers, and entrepreneurs. DOT aims to attract ideas from around the nation to identify new solutions for common access issues.


DOT is eager to realize the potential mobility benefits that ADS-DVs could bring to people with disabilities. ADS-DVs, could offer greater levels of mobility for individuals who either cannot drive or require a vehicle with extensive modifications, but only if their needs are considered explicitly and incorporated into future ADS-DV designs. DOT recognizes that the diversity of disabilities and resulting implications for vehicle design features makes this a complicated engineering challenge. While some mobility services (e.g., public transportation or for-hire vehicles, such as taxis) currently incorporate some accessibility features, few of these features are universally included in passenger vehicles as part of vehicle design. Meanwhile, aftermarket solutions tend to be expensive and cumbersome.

Several recent publications are provided at to offer further information on the needs, challenges, and opportunities that ADS-DVs introduce for people with disabilities.

Challenge Details

DOT seeks ideas for inclusive features that will enable future ADS-DVs to meet the needs of people with disabilities safely, effectively, and efficiently. Participants will compete for cash prizes by developing innovative design solutions to increase access to and use of ADS-DVs for people with disabilities. Such features can be human-machine interfaces, physical hardware designs, or combinations thereof that can allow a person with a physical, sensory, and/or cognitive disability to perform one or more tasks required to use an ADS-DV. Solutions may be proposed as standalone features or integrated into a holistic vehicle design. Successful solutions will show that they have taken into account production feasibility and an understanding of the needs and constraints of both industry and travelers with disabilities. The Department notes that it is seeking to further innovation in inclusive design for ADS-DVs with this Challenge, rather than the development of the Automated Driving Systems themselves. Thus, awards are judged solely on the factors described in this statement, and are not based on the sophistication Of any ADS included as part of a prototype vehicle. See Stage II Prototype/Demonstration below for additional details on prototype expectations and requirements.

The sections below provide important information on elements to consider as part of your Challenge solution.

Vehicle Platform

Participants should consider features intended to be incorporated into vehicles that can serve a wide range of communities and are capable of operating at highway speeds. Participants have flexibility in choosing a vehicle to use as a reference or base platform in developing their feature(s), keeping in mind the focus of the Challenge is developing inclusive solutions for ADS-DVs that could either function as personal vehicles or as part of a shared private fleet. Please note that the Challenge is not specifically soliciting solutions to be used exclusively in public transportation. However, successful solutions may have application to both private and public transportation.

Vehicle Use

Participants will develop inclusive design solutions to address one or more of the following tasks that an ADS-DV user with a disability will need to complete:

  • Locating an ADS-DV - Including, but not limited to, being notified that a vehicle has arrived; identifying the correct vehicle and locating and navigating to the correct vehicle.
  • Entering an ADS-DV- Including, but not limited to, unlocking and opening vehicle door(s); deploying and stowing ramps or other equipment enabling access for wheelchair users or people with other physical disabilities or mobility equipment; and closing vehicle door(s).
  • Securing Passengers and Mobility Equipment - Including, but not limited to, securing seatbelts and other passenger restraints; securing wheelchairs or other mobility equipment to the vehicle; and accommodating service animals.
  • Inputting Information - Including, but not limited to, confirming passenger identity; searching for, entering, and changing a desired destination; confirming the vehicle’s destination; selecting a specific drop-off point (e.g., a particular entrance to a large complex or a location with a curb cut or sufficient space to deploy a ramp or other physical device).
  • Interacting with the ADS in routine and emergency situations - Including, but not limited to, operating passenger convenience and safety features (e.g., entertainment, window controls, locks, climate control); monitoring the vehicle’s location and route progress; changing the vehicle’s destination en route; requesting assistance (emergency or non-emergency); understanding and performing appropriate actions in the event of a breakdown or crash.
  • Exiting an ADS-DV - Including, but not limited to, being notified and confirming that a vehicle has reached its intended destination; releasing passenger and/or mobility equipment restraints; identifying and locating the safe and appropriate door(s) from which to exit the vehicle; recognizing when it is safe to exit a vehicle; opening door(s) and deploying and stowing ramps or other equipment enabling access for passengers and/or mobility equipment (e.g., wheelchairs).

Disability Types

For the Challenge, inclusiveness will be evaluated, in part, by the extent to which proposed solutions address a range of disabilities and needs. As noted above, applicants will need to demonstrate working engagement(s) with representatives from the disability community in their design process.

Participants will also focus their efforts by designing solutions for use by one or more of the following groups:

  • People with physical disabilities
  • People with sensory disabilities
  • People with cognitive disabilities
  • People with multiple types of disabilities

Production Feasibility

DOT seeks proposals through this Challenge that strike a balance between innovation and near-term implementation. For innovation to have the desired impact, implementation is critical. Participants are expected to discuss factors related to the feasibility of producing their solution(s), including the maturity of the technology underlying the inclusive design elements of the proposed design, as well as cost and other production considerations. “Production” here refers to the incorporation of the proposed solution(s) into a vehicle as original equipment, integration into an existing vehicle platform as part of an aftermarket modification, or a holistic reimagining of passenger vehicle design with a focus on seamlessly integrating inclusive features.

Challenge Structure Overall Schedule

DOT anticipates that the Challenge will proceed according to the schedule outlined below. Dates are subject to change with any changes being posted on the DOT’s Challenge website accordingly.

  • Stage I Launch: April 21, 2020
  • Stage I Close: October 30, 2020, 5:00 PM Eastern
  • Stage I Selection/ Awards, Launch of Stage II: January 2021 (anticipated)
  • Stage II Design Charrette: Summer 2021 (anticipated)
  • Stage II Close, Prototype Demonstrations at U.S. DOT Headquarters: June 2022 (anticipated)
  • Stage II Prize Selections: July 2022 (anticipated)

Stage I, Proof of Concept

In Stage I, eligible Participants will submit proposals for inclusive design solutions for ADS-DVs. DOT will select up to ten semifinalists to advance to Stage II to develop a functional prototype of their idea and compete for a cash prize.

Stage I proposals will be limited to written, descriptive summaries (no more than 10 pages; see “Stage I Submission Requirements” below for additional detail on proposal length constraints), supporting visual exhibits, and accompanying information (team biographies, etc.) as outlined below.

Stage II, Prototype/Demonstration

In Stage II, the semifinalists selected to advance from Stage I will develop their concepts into functional prototypes of an inclusive design solution.

A functional prototype may include one or more of the options outlined below, as appropriate given the nature of solution(s) being demonstrated, their sophistication, and the time available. DOT will not require semifinalists to demonstrate their proposed feature(s) on an actual vehicle, although a team may determine that doing so is necessary and/or advantageous to illustrate maturity, production/integration feasibility, or functionality.

  • Full-size physical prototype, either:

    • Integrated into a vehicle (the vehicle itself does not need to be automated, but should be reflective of vehicles being developed and tested with Level 4 or 5 automation).
    • Full-size, standalone demonstration separate from a vehicle. In this case, Participants should be prepared to illustrate how their proposed solution would be integrated into a full-size vehicle, potentially through one of the other prototype approaches listed.
  • Software prototype - Given that certain solutions or components of broader solutions will entail a software/interface component, Participants can consider functioning software interfaces as prototypes.
  • Scale physical prototype - If a full-size physical prototype is infeasible for the proposed solution given the time and resources available, Participants may consider demonstrating their concept via a scale model. Accompanying demonstration exhibits may complement scale prototypes, particularly to demonstrate engineering feasibility, integration into a vehicle platform, and usability.
  • Virtual prototype - DOT will consider the submission of virtual prototypes (3D models, computer-aided design (CAD) drawings, schematics) of physical solutions, but strongly encourages Participants to consider other primary means of demonstrating their solution(s), and to limit the use of virtual prototypes to supporting/secondary exhibits.

DOT anticipates that partway through Stage II one or more design charrettes will be held with subject matter experts from industry and the disability community. At the end of Stage II, teams will be invited to Washington, D.C. to demonstrate their prototypes. After this, the final prize selections will be announced. Up to three finalists will be selected and awarded a portion of the remaining prize purse, contingent upon review of the Stage II submissions and demonstrations against the judging criteria. As discussed below under Judging Criteria, the details of Stage II are subject to change and will not be finalized until Stage I is complete. DOT may, in its sole discretion, not proceed with Stage II.

Opportunity is About:


Candidates should be from:

Description of Ideal Candidate:


The Challenge is open to individuals and teams (Participants) from the academic, research, and business communities including, but not limited to, universities, research institutions, technology companies, and entrepreneurs. DOT expects teams to describe how they have engaged with stakeholders to understand the needs and constraints of both industry and travelers with disabilities as part of explaining the feasibility and impact of their design. Teams are strongly encouraged to identify representatives from both industry and the disability community to serve as advisors and/or team members and help inform the direction of their idea based on their knowledge and expertise. Strong proposals will be well-informed by a rich understanding of user needs and industry conditions.

To be eligible to win a prize under this Challenge, an individual or entity:

  1. Shall register to participate in the Challenge under the rules promulgated by the DOT Office of the Secretary of Transportation;
  2. Shall comply with all the requirements under this announcement and any subsequently announced rules for the competition;
  3. In the case of a private entity, shall be incorporated in and maintain a primary place of business in the United States or US territory, and in the case of an individual, whether participating singly or in a group, shall be a citizen or permanent resident of the United States or US territory;
  4. Shall not be a DOT employee; and
  5. Shall not be another Federal entity or Federal employee acting within the scope of their employment (all non-DOT Federal employees must consult with their agency Ethics Official to determine whether the Federal ethics rules will limit or prohibit the acceptance of a cash prize stemming from a Federally sponsored prize competition).

In addition, these two restrictions apply to recipients of other Federal funds:

  1. Federal grantees may not use Federal funds to develop submissions unless consistent with the purpose of their grant award; and
  2. Federal contractors may not use Federal funds from a contract to develop prize competition applications or to fund efforts in support of a prize competition submission.

An individual or entity shall not be deemed ineligible because the individual or entity used Federal facilities or consulted with Federal employees during a competition if the facilities and employees are made available to all individuals and entities participating in the competition on an equitable basis.


Deadline: October 30, 2020

Cost/funding for participants:


The Challenge consists of two stages. Individuals and teams will compete for an overall prize purse of up to $5,000,000. The prize purse is part of the $100 million allocated in Fiscal Year 2018 for a “Highly automated vehicle research and development program” through the Consolidated Appropriations Act of 2018 (Public Law 115-141) and its accompanying Explanatory Statement.

In Stage I, DOT will select up to ten semifinalists to advance to Stage II; each will receive $300,000 in prize money, which may be used to support the development of their prototype in Stage II. If a selectee declines to participate in the next stage, an alternate semifinalist may be selected. In Stage II, DOT will select three winning teams to receive a portion of the remaining prize purse.

Prizes will be structured as follows:

  • Stage I Proof-of-Concept: Total prize funds awarded = Up to $3,000,000

    • Up to 10 Semifinalists will be selected
    • Each will receive $300,000 upon selection as a Semifinalist
  • Stage II Prototype/Demonstration: Total prize funds awarded = $2,000,000

    • Winner (1st place) will receive $1,000,000
    • 2nd place receives $700,000
    • 3rd place receives $300,000
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