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Informational Only

This challenge is no longer accepting new submissions.

Inclusive Design Challenge

Designing solutions to enable people with disabilities to use automated vehicles

Department of Transportation

Total Cash Prizes Offered: $5,000,000
Type of Challenge: Technology demonstration and hardware
Submission Start: 04/21/2020 08:00 AM ET
Submission End: 10/30/2020 05:00 PM ET

Updates have been made to the Stage II Judging Criteria section below.

For more information about the Challenge and related activities please visit



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.

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.


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.


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 = $3,000,000 ($300,000 for each Semifinalist)

    The Inclusive Design Challenge Semifinalists, announced on January 6, 2021, are:

    • AbleLink Smart Living Technologies
    • Boston University
    • Carnegie Mellon University - Human-Computer Interaction Institute
    • Clemson University
    • Foresight Augmented Reality LLC
    • May Mobility & University of Michigan Transportation Research Institute (UMTRI)
    • Purdue University
    • University of Kansas
    • University of Maine
    • Waymo
  • 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


If any potential (semi)finalist is found to be ineligible, has not complied with these Challenge rules, or declines the cash prize for any reason prior to award, an alternate (semi-)finalist may be selected.


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.

Liability and Insurance Requirements

By registering and entering a submission, each participant agrees to assume any and all risks and waive claims against the Federal Government and its related entities, except in the case of willful misconduct, for any injury, death, damage, or loss of property, revenue, or profits, whether direct, indirect, or consequential, arising from their participation in this competition, whether the injury, death, damage, or loss arises through negligence or otherwise. By registering and entering a submission, each participant further represents and warrants that it possesses sufficient liability insurance or financial resources, to the extent permitted by applicable law, to cover claims by a third party for death, bodily injury, or property damage or loss resulting from any activity it carries out in connection with its participation in this competition, or claims by the Federal Government for damage or loss to government property resulting from such an activity. Competition winners shall be prepared to demonstrate proof of insurance or financial responsibility in the event DOT deems it necessary.

Payment of the Prize

Cash prizes awarded under this Challenge will be paid to the individual or Team Lead directly by DOT through electronic funds transfer. Finalists and winner(s) will be responsible for any applicable local, State, and Federal taxes and reporting that may be required under applicable tax laws. The DOT will comply with the Internal Revenue Service withholding and reporting requirements, where applicable.

Confidential and Business Information

Challenge submissions and communication with DOT are subject to the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA). If the application includes information that the applicant considers to be a trade secret or confidential commercial or financial information, the proposer should do the following: (1) Note on the front cover that the submission “Contains Confidential Business Information (CBI)”; (2) mark each affected page “CBI”; and (3) highlight or otherwise denote the CBI portions. DOT protects such information from disclosure to the extent allowed under applicable law. In the event DOT receives a FOIA request for the information, DOT will follow the procedures described in its FOIA regulations at 49 CFR 7.29. Only information that is ultimately determined to be confidential under that procedure will be exempt from disclosure under FOIA. DOT may proactively publish any application information that is not marked as CBI.

Representation, Warranties, and Indemnification

By entering the Challenge, each applicant represents, warrants, and covenants as follows:

  • Participant is the sole author, creator, and owner of the Submission
  • The Submission is not the subject of any actual or threatened litigation or claim;
  • The Submission does not and will not violate or infringe upon the intellectual property rights, privacy rights, publicity rights, or other legal rights of any third party;
  • The Submission does not and will not contain any harmful computer code (sometimes referred to as “malware,” “viruses,” or “worms”); and
  • The Submission, and contestants use of the Submission, does not and will not violate any applicable laws or regulations, including, without limitation, the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA), or applicable export control laws and regulations of the United States and other jurisdictions.

If an Applicant is unable to make any of the warranties as stated above, Applicant must provide a clear written explanation of the reason(s) it cannot make any specific warranty. DOT will, in its sole discretion, determine whether such explanations are sufficient.

DOT reserves the right to disqualify any submission that it deems, in its discretion, to violate these Official Rules, Terms & Conditions.

Intellectual Property of Submissions

Participants can utilize intellectual property developed prior to this Challenge as a part of their submission. Neither the U.S. Department of Transportation nor anyone acting on its behalf will obtain any rights in intellectual property developed prior to or during the conduct of this Challenge without the prior written consent of the Participant. By participating in the Challenge, the Participant is not granting rights in any patents, pending patent applications, or copyrights related to the technology described in their submission. However, by submitting their entry, the Participant is granting the U.S; Department of Transportation and any parties acting on its behalf certain limited rights as set forth herein.

By virtue of their submission to this Challenge, Participants grant to the DOT, and any parties acting on their behalf the right to:

  1. review the submission per the Stage I Judging Criteria;
  2. describe the submission in any materials created in connection with this Challenge; and
  3. screen and evaluate the submission per the Stage II Judging Criteria, if Participant is selected for Stage II.

Participant further grants the DOT, and anyone acting on its behalf the right to publicize Participant’s name and, as applicable, the name of Participant’s team members and/or the name of any Entity that assisted in preparing Participant’s submission. Such authority includes posting or linking to the Participant’s submission on U.S. Department of Transportation websites, including the Challenge website, Participant’s websites, and inclusion of the Participant’s submission in any other media, worldwide. More specifically, such authority includes the right to copy, distribute, publicly display and publicly perform all parts of Participant’s submission that would not otherwise be exempt from disclosure under FOIA.

Notes on Terminology

  1. This Challenge focuses specifically on vehicles operated exclusively by a Level 4 and 5 ADS, a level of automation at which human occupants are not expected to serve as a fallback, as long as the vehicle remains within the system’s operational design domain. In its standard J3016 Taxonomy and Definitions for Terms Related to On-Road Motor Vehicle Automated Driving Systems, SAE International refers to such vehicles as ADS-dedicated vehicles or ADS-DVs. DOT recognizes that some solutions proposed through this Challenge may also be applicable to dual-mode vehicles - capable of both driverless operation and operation by a conventional driver for a complete trip.
  2. In the Consolidated Appropriations Act of 2018 (Public Law 115-14]), Congress reallocated $100 million for “. . . a highly automated vehicle (HAV) research and development program,” a portion of which is being used to fund this Challenge. The accompanying Explanatory Statement further clarified: “Of the total amount provided, not less than $38,000,000 shall be used for direct research, including administrative expenses, on HAV and [Advanced Driver Assistance System] technologies by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, the Federal Highway Administration, the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration, and the Federal Transit Administration, of which no more than $5,000,000 shall be for ADAS research. For the purposes of the agreement, HAV refers to technologies capable of the Society of Automotive Engineers (SAE) DOT Level 3, Level 4, or Level 5 automation, whereas ADAS refers to technologies capable of Level 1 or Level 2” (Division L, Title 1). DOT previously used the term HAV to refer to vehicles with Level 3-5 driving automation, but subsequently adopted the terminology in SAE J3016 Taxonomy and Definitions for Terms Related to On-Road Motor Vehicle Automated Driving Systems.

Judging Criteria

Stage I Judging Criteria

The judging panel will consider each submission’s alignment with each of these criteria and make recommendations to the Secretary of Transportation. The Secretary will select as semifinalists those submissions that best advance the purposes of the Challenge.


    • Innovation. Submission advances the state of the practice in meeting the needs of users with one or more disabilities (physical, sensory, and/or cognitive)
    • Technical Detail and Understanding. Submission demonstrates an understanding of the problem/engineering need being met as well as limitations.
    • User-Driven. Submission demonstrates user-driven design and incorporates direct input from relevant communities.
    • Team. Submission describes the team’s composition including disability and industry advisors and how the team’s background supports the solution development.

    • Production Integration. Submission describes how the solution can be integrated into a production vehicle, as original equipment or as an aftermarket modification, including scalability, ease of integration, and market readiness.
    • Risks and Challenges. Submission identifies possible risks and challenges and how to overcome them.
    • Safety Considerations. Submission clearly describes the individual’s/team’s approach to ensuring the safety of occupants and other road users.
    • Cost and Other Adoption Considerations. Submission describes expected costs to implement the technology and if/how the cost will impact the potential for future industry adoption. Cost, in this case, reflects both the cost to develop and the cost to manufacture, integrate into vehicles, and sell to the end consumer (either individual vehicle buyer or fleet operator).

    • Inclusivity. Submission demonstrates inclusivity in vehicle design and engineering, laying a foundation for future automated vehicles that can be used by people with physical, sensory, and cognitive disabilities.
    • Potential Benefit. Submission describes potential benefit to one or more target user(s) or demonstrates the potential for users, should the solution be developed.

Stage II Judging Criteria

DOT shared final Stage II Instructions with Semifinalists at the time of their selection.  The Stage II Instructions include details on Stage II submission materials, judging criteria, and timeline.

How To Enter

Submissions should follow the instructions below and should be submitted to

Stage I Submission Requirements

Complete Stage I submission packages shall consist of the following elements:

  1. A cover page with the following information:

    • Submission title;
    • Brief description of the submission (15 words);
    • Team name, participant(s) name(s), organization(s), and primary point of contact;
    • Vehicle use(s) addressed; and
    • Disability type(s) addressed.
  2. A one-page executive summary of the concept being proposed.
  3. A concept paper (10-page limit), including but not limited to the following content:

    • A detailed technical description of the proposed solution discussing its functionality and capabilities, demonstrating the user needs being met and how, and strategies involved in integrating the proposed solution into a production vehicle as original equipment or as a modification. The paper should explain how the team arrived at its understanding of these issues, including its process for incorporating guidance from potential users and/or industry;
    • Describe how the proposed solution will meet the objective of the Challenge, namely how it advances the state of the practice in feasible, purpose-built, fully inclusive vehicle design than can enable independent use of future ADS-DVs by people with disabilities, and how the proposed solution satisfies the Judging Criteria;
    • Discuss the approach to ensuring the safety of occupants and other road users;
    • Describe the anticipated user experience of the technology, including how the team incorporated input from stakeholders in the disability community;
    • Discuss the team’s assessment of the production feasibility of the proposed solution(s), including whether it is intended as an original equipment feature or an aftermarket modification, level of maturity of the underlying technologies, and production cost considerations. The team should also discuss how its proposal has been informed by industry stakeholders or partners;
    • Include a plan/schedule for Stage II project implementation (prototype development), resources, and costs.
  4. Appendices:

    • Information on the qualifications of your team - Briefly describe the makeup of the team and include a resume or bio of key individual(s). Also, describe how you have engaged with specific parties to understand the needs and constraints of both industry and travelers with disabilities as part of explaining the feasibility and impact of your design, and provide the name and affiliation of any representatives from industry and the disability community who you plan to have serve as an advisor during the Stage II prototyping phase and how you plan to use them.
    • Supporting technical data and/or figures, if available, should be included as an appendix, which does not count towards the 10-page limit of the concept paper.

Note: Submission requirements for Stage II will be provided to the semifinalists upon advancing to the next stage and will also be posted on the DOT’s Inclusive Design Challenge website.