Despite efforts by ridesharing companies to eliminate or reduce discrimination, research from the Indiana University Kelley School of Business finds that racial and other bias persists. Platforms such as Uber, Lyft and Via have altered their systems by removing information about a rider’s gender and race from ride requests. However, IU researchers still found biases against underrepresented groups and those who support the LGBT community continued to exist after drivers accepted a ride request, when the rider’s picture was displayed. In other words, biased behavior shifted to after the ride was confirmed, resulting in higher cancellation rates. Researchers randomly manipulated rider names and profile pictures to observe drivers’ behavior patterns in accepting and cancelling rides. To illustrate support for LGBT rights, the researchers overlaid a rainbow filter on x rider picture profile. They found that signaling support for the LGBT community led to significantly higher cancelation rates. They also found that underrepresented minorities are more than twice as likely to have a ride cancelled than Caucasians, about 3 percent versus 8 percent. To help eliminate discrimination, researchers think ridesharing companies should find ways to penalize drivers for biased behavior such as to move them down the priority list when they exhibit biased cancelation behavior, so they receive fewer ride requests. Alternatively, researchers said less-punitive measures may provide “badges” for drivers that exhibit especially low cancelation rates for minority riders. But, ultimately, policymakers may need to intervene, they said, in order to truly help eliminate discrimination.
In other news, copper, a metal commonly used throughout history for its antibacterial properties is being utilized by IU researchers to solve a problem very relevant today: making reusable face masks safer and more comfortable for daily use. Researchers Mangilal Agarwal and Hamid Dalir, from IUPUI’s Integrated Nanosystems Development Institute, are applying a patented technology developed at IUPUI to manufacture reusable face masks using copper, a metal often used in the production of high-touch objects like doorknobs and handles. Their goal is to improve filter performance by trapping and disabling airborne virus particles. The technology – initially developed at IUPUI to make composite materials cheaper, lighter and stronger using nanomaterials – could be used to coat household masks with a layer of fabric protection inlaid with copper nanoparticles that disable virus particles as they reach the surface. While some cloth masks allow the small airborne particles to pass through, the new patented technology would be close to 100% proof that the mask can improve filtering and deactivate the virus. Researchers said the general public would be able to wear a reusable mask that offers the same superior level of protection as masks worn by healthcare providers, such as N95 masks. Beyond face masks, the technology can be applied to other methods for fighting COVID-19, such as HEPA filters found in HVAC systems.