With funding from the Trinity Research Doctorate Awards: Research Projects 2024-5, “Health and Transport in the AI era” will recruit four PhD student to complete a project concerned with the health aspects of modern transport specific to people with disabilities and older adults.


Many changes in transport are expected as we enter an increasingly climate conscious artificial intelligence (AI) era. Technological advancements in transport present unique opportunities and challenges to certain populations including older adults and disabled people. The impacts transport has on health are well documented and arguably more pronounced for older people and disabled people, who experience accessibility issues, isolation and reduced levels of physical activity[1-3]. This project adopts a multi-disciplinary lens to analyse and produce concrete proposals on how best to harness the health benefits and mitigate the health risks for older adults and disabled people arising from developments in transport. Our work addresses a complex societal challenge at the intersection of health, our built environment, and technology. It goes further however to address emerging ethical and legal issues as the nature of transport changes. Examining and disseminating the health and accessibility changes that modern transport, such as increasingly autonomous vehicles, can bring to older adults and disabled people (PhD1 and 2) will not have significant impact and runs the risk of remaining illusory until a point where design (PhD 3) and legal (PhD 4) considerations are addressed. As such an interdisciplinary approach is required[4].     

Stakeholders will be partners in our work and be represented on PhD supervision teams (Figure 1).  

The overall aims of this project will be to   

  1. Outline the health impacts, opportunities, and barriers of increasingly autonomous vehicles for older people and disabled people.   
  2. Determine and understand why features of modern sustainable transport are helpful or unhelpful for older people and disabled people.  
  3. Examine legal considerations related to the use of modern transport options such as increasingly autonomous vehicles.  
  4. Examine how changes in our built environment related to the modernisation of transport can support the health of older adults and disabled people.   

PhD 1: Older adults driving in the AI era  

Many of Ireland’s older adults rely on motorised vehicles to access essential resources including health facilities, and to remain connected and contributing within their communities[3]. It is known that dependence increases when older people cease driving and that this also coincides with increased loneliness and isolation[5].  

Keskinen’s driving model outlines the requirements for driving and spans from policy and legislative considerations to the physical ability to handle a vehicle[6]. There is potential for increasingly autonomous vehicles (IAVs) to assist or compensate for certain levels of Keskinen’s driving model, particularly with vehicle handling and manoeuvring. However, an intact underlying skill set is required for successful person-vehicle interaction, and it is unknown whether the assistance provided by modern vehicles is beneficial to older people who wish to continue or prolong their driving, or whether it is designed in an accessible manner for this population. PhD 1 will examine the feasibility, acceptability and health-related considerations of older adults using increasingly autonomous vehicles (i.e. driver assist technology etc).   

The methodology for this work will be primarily qualitative in nature, exploring the driving patterns of current and recently retired drivers, or drivers considering driver cessation in both urban and rural settings, and specifically how in-car technology impacts driving. Data on socioeconomic factors will also be collected.    

PhD 2: People with disabilities using transport in the AI era 

As our national transport strategy focuses its efforts on large scale public transport development, the opportunities that arise for those with disabilities are numerous, however there are many reasons public transport can be inaccessible for disabled people. As transport changes occur, it is imperative that the perspectives of those with disabilities are heard, understood and communicated effectively. A wide range of people self-identify as disabled, with different transport experiences, needs, and challenges. PhD 2 will examine the experience of those with disabilities using modern transport. This will be achieved using surveys and focus groups with relevant adult populations including blind people, and deaf/hard of hearing people. To gain a depth of knowledge, the subjective experience and objective health experience of using various transport options by disabled adults in both urban and rural environments will be evaluated in detail through data collection using accelerometery, ambulatory blood pressure monitoring, telemetry and psychometrics. The Delphi technique will be used to establish consensus from adults with disabilities on what features of modern transport facilitate a healthy lifestyle.   

PhD 3: Universal design considerations for transport in the AI era  

The electrification of vehicles on our roads, the use of increasingly autonomous vehicles, decarbonisation and the increase in public and active transport use are all realities and require changes in how we design our built environment. A recent report from the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) on the Irish transport sector highlighted the reallocation of space in our built environment as a priority over the next decade[7]. Our built environment can discourage or support physical activity and health[1, 8]. As we strive to change how we move in an effort to meet our Climate Action Plan, there is a need to examine how such changes can support healthy active lifestyles. PhD 3 will evaluate how changes in our built environment could benefit the physical mental and cognitive health of our communities, specifically older adults and disabled people. It will also consider impacts on air quality, emissions and wellbeing in our cities. This will be achieved by gathering data on features of our built environment which support increased physical activity and sustainable transport use, and features that discourage such behaviour. This work will involve comparing different types of urban and rural environments and use geo-spatial and traffic modelling to determine whether specific areas, or changes in transport use could lead to healthier and more active lifestyles. The work will use existing sensor networks that measure mobility data (walking and cycling) in this modelling. We will also gain a depth of understanding on the interaction between physical activity choices and transport through qualitative research methods.  

PhD 4: Regulating increasingly automated vehicles for older adults and disabled people 

PhD 4 will investigate regulation as a potential tool for catalysing, accommodating, and enhancing the adoption and use of increasingly automated vehicles (IAVs) by older adults and disabled people as technology develops. Vehicle standards regulation is generally concerned with safety and environmental impact. As IAVs have unique potential to support older adults and disabled people, regulation of IAVs ought to be developed with this consideration in mind.   

PhD 4 will survey the broad landscape of AI-enhanced transport technology and the emerging regulatory landscape of IAVs, to enquire to what extent human rights and equality considerations relevant to older adults and disabled people have been reflected in efforts to regulate to date. Adopting a primarily doctrinal methodology, and in close collaboration with other team members, PhD 4 will then assimilate and synthesise primary and secondary source literature on a) relevant human rights (specifically, equality law and anti-discrimination law as it applies to age and disability); b) regulation theory (particularly human rights- and social solidarity-orientated rationales for regulation of technology); c) AI ethics, regulation and governance; and d) regulatory technical standards. A further work package will glean the views of older adults and disabled people on using IAVs to inform understanding of current and prospective regulation. Together, these strands of research will form the basis for specific proposals on how IAV regulation could be improved to catalyse, accommodate, and enhance the adoption and use of IAVs by older adults and disabled people.  

 Figure 1 Overview of PhDs 



This work aligns with several Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) and the College Sustainability Strategy. Table 1 maps SDGs to areas of this work, however it is not exhaustive, and the intersectional nature of this work should also be considered.   

Table 1: Aligning with SDGs  

SDG number and title  

This project will…  

3 Good health and wellbeing  

Promote healthy lives and wellbeing for older adults and disabled people.  

4 Quality education  

Support four PhDs and provide inclusive and excellent education for those students.  

Welcome applicants who identify as being from protected groups or have experienced socio-economic disadvantage.  

5 Gender equality  

Address gender equality as it intersects with various issues for disabled people and older adults. 

9 Industry, innovation, and infrastructure 

Examine our built environment from a sustainable transport perspective with a universal design approach.  

10 Reduced inequalities  

Reduce inequalities in transport. 

11 Sustainable cities and communities 

Research the potential of our communities (rural and urban) to be more sustainable and inclusive using modern transport.  

12 Responsible consumption and production 

Promote sustainable consumption and production patterns, while considering the health of disabled people and older adults.  

17 Partnerships for the goals 

Be a microcosm of how we can all work in partnership to achieve SDGs.  


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  2. Heeb, R., et al., Factors influencing participation among adults aging with long-term physical disability. Disabil Health J, 2022. 15(1): p. 101169.
  3. Unsworth, C., et al., Linking people and activities through community mobility: an international comparison of the mobility patterns of older drivers and non-drivers. Age and Society, 2021. 42(8): p. 25.
  4. Gabriele Bammer, M.O.R., Deborah O’Connell, Linda Neuhauser, Gerald Midgley, Julie Thompson Klein, Nicola J. Grigg, Howard Gadlin, Ian R. Elsum, Marcel Bursztyn, Elizabeth A. Fulton, Christian Pohl, Michael Smithson, Ulli Vilsmaier, Matthias Bergmann, Jill Jaeger, Femke Merkx, Bianca Vienni Baptista, Mark A. Burgman, Daniel H. Walker, John Young, Hilary Bradbury, Lynn Crawford, Budi Haryanto, Cha-aim Pachanee, Merritt Polk, George P. Richardson, Expertise in research integration and implementation for tackling complex problems: when is it needed, where can it be found and how can it be strengthened? Palgrave Commun, 2020. 6(5).
  5. Qin, W., X. Xiang, and H. Taylor, Driving Cessation and Social Isolation in Older Adults. J Aging Health, 2020. 32(9): p. 962-971.
  6. Keskinen, E., Education for older drivers in the future. IATSS Research, 2014.
  7. Development, T.O.f.E.C.a., Redesigning Ireland’s Transport for Net Zero: Towards Systems that Work for People and the Planet. 2022, The Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD).
  8. Tcymbal, A., et al., Effects of the built environment on physical activity: a systematic review of longitudinal studies taking sex/gender into account. Environ Health Prev Med, 2020. 25(1): p. 75.
  9. Daniel, K.L., et al., Challenges facing interdisciplinary researchers: Findings from a professional development workshop. PLoS One, 2022. 17(4): p. e0267234.