A car that can be driven by the blind


July 5, 2010

A blind volunteer trying out Virginia Tech's BDC system in a dune buggy

A blind volunteer trying out Virginia Tech's BDC system in a dune buggy

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Next January, before the Rolex 24 auto race at Daytona International Speedway, a Ford Escape will drive around part of the course. The catch: its driver will be blind. The event will be a demonstration of technology developed by the US National Federation of the Blind (NFB) and Virginia Polytechnic Institute (Virginia Tech). Three years ago, Virginia Tech accepted the NFB’s Blind Driver Challenge (BDC), in which engineering schools were invited to design non-visual interfaces that would allow blind people to drive. From the sounds of things, the Rolex 24 demo could be just the tip of the iceberg.

The BDC system initially incorporated a Hokuyo single plane laser range finder sensor, which gathered information about boundaries and obstacles surrounding the vehicle. This information was relayed to the driver via clicking audio cues – the location of things such as other vehicles was represented both by how many clicks were made, and the direction from which those clicks were coming. The steering wheel clicked correspondingly when turned, so drivers could tell when they had turned it far enough.

The driver also wore a tactile vest, with vertically-aligned motors resting on both sides of their chest. If the driver were exceeding the speed limit, the right side of the vest would vibrate. If a sudden stop was required, all the motors on both sides of the vest would go off.

Virginia Tech tried out the first-generation prototype of the system last summer, at the NFB Youth Slam. At that event, blind students got to drive a modified dune buggy around an enclosed course of traffic cones. The feedback received from that event led to upgrades in a new version of the system.

One of those upgrades is the DriveGrip system. Sort of a combination of the clicking steering wheel and the vibrating vest, DriveGrip incorporates a pair of gloves that house vibrating motors on each finger. When the sensor detects that a turn needs to be made, the motors gradually activate in the direction of that turn. Like those in the vest, the motors could also be used to let drivers know that they’re driving too fast, or that an emergency stop is required.

The AirPix device is another new development. It consists of a flat plate containing rows of orifices that exude pressurized air, not unlike the surface of an air hockey table. By holding their hand over this plate, blind drivers can obtain a tactile, constantly-changing “image” of their surroundings.

Once installed in the Ford Escape, the Virginia Tech BDC team would also like to upgrade to a multi-pane laser range finder, designed specifically for automotive applications. Beyond the demonstration at Daytona, they hope to get a group of blind drivers to pilot the vehicle from Baltimore, Maryland to Orlando, Florida, for the NFB’s national convention next spring.

About the Author
Ben Coxworth An experienced freelance writer, videographer and television producer, Ben's interest in all forms of innovation is particularly fanatical when it comes to human-powered transportation, film-making gear, environmentally-friendly technologies and anything that's designed to go underwater. He lives in Edmonton, Alberta, where he spends a lot of time going over the handlebars of his mountain bike, hanging out in off-leash parks, and wishing the Pacific Ocean wasn't so far away. All articles by Ben Coxworth

A car to be driven by a bllind person technology developed by the US National Federation of the Blind (NFB) and Virginia Polytechnic Institute (Virginia Tech),Amazing innovation to simulate blind person\'s requirement to drive a car by persons with vision. Great.

Dr.A.Jagadeesh Nellore(AP),India

Anumakonda Jagadeesh

Indeed, this will be another big leap for humanity. I, for one respect every person, especially those with challenges in life, however allowing a blind person on the road behind a wheel is not the smartest invention we could come up with. Don\'t get me wrong, I fully support any technology advancements, and anything to help anyone who are physically challenged, but I don\'t support it at the expense of the safety of thousands more.

The proof is here: New Ford Escape is being developed for blind drivers

When those who can see still have crazy accidents from sudden unexpected things, how much worse do you think it could be for those who can\'t see? What if their sensors go out all of the sudden and they have no idea what to do where to go or how to stop. Individuals are already horrible drivers, and no amount of cash from an installment loan could get me to support this idea.


@journey personally I don't feel overly alarmed by this prospect. seeing people get into wrecks because either they, or soemone around them was under the influence of some form of drug, or they got careless. blind people do not normally have the luxury of being careless due the fact that even simply walking around a neighborhood requires them to use all their senses to avoid injury.... so I think it would be fairly safe

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