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New Technology May Allow the Blind to Drive

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On: Mon, Jul 5, 2010 at 3:41PM | By: Sherry Christiansen


New Technology May Allow the Blind to Drive

When it comes to innovative automobile technology, the possibilities are seemingly endless. In recent news, there is actually a new driving interface being developed that is intended to allow the blind to independently drive a car on the open road.

The new technology being designed by engineers at Virginia Tech utilizes several methods to inform the driver of his/her surroundings. One such non-visual cue is sent via a set of gloves called “Drive Grip.” The gloves vibrate on various portions of the knuckles to signal to the driver with information regarding where he/she needs to turn. Another type of interface  is called “AirPix,” which uses compressed air to inform a blind driver of where other cars and obstacles are located in his/her immediate environment, creating a type of map that the vehicle operator would use to understand when and where to navigate the vehicle.

The project started in 2007, when a group of Virginia Tech researchers participated in a competition to develop a vehicle that could drive itself. Later, that same group received a grant from the National Federation of the Blind to incorporate the laser detection system, which allowed the car to navigate and detect obstacles, into an interface that could be understood through tactile senses instead of sight.

Many advocates for the blind feel it is what they call a "moon shot." Driving a car has historically been an impossible feat for a blind person (as was walking on the moon at one time), but researchers are hoping to challenge those old beliefs and to transform limitations that individuals without sight have dealt with for decades. "We're exploring areas that have previously been regarded as unexplorable," said Dr. Marc Maurer, president of the National Federation of the Blind. "We're moving away from the theory that blindness ends the capacity of human beings to make contributions to society."

For many years, Maurer has had a vision of a car that blind people could drive and he founded the research institute. "Some people thought I was crazy and they thought, 'Why do you want us to raise money for something that can't be done?' Others thought it was a great idea," Maurer said. "Some people were incredulous. Others thought the idea was incredible."

According a Huffington Post article; Mark Riccobono, executive director of the NFB's Jernigan Institute, said when he is in public with his 3-year-old son many are under the impression that the child is actually guiding his father. "The idea that a 3-year-old takes care of me stems from what they think about blindness," Riccobono said. "That will change when people see that we can do something that they thought was impossible."

The plan is to incorporate the interfaces into a Ford Escape and present the first fully operational car for the blind at the Rolex 24 At Daytona on January 29, 2011. The ultimate goal is that the car could lead to a change in the legislation that prohibits the visually impaired from driving a motor vehicle.


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