[aarontech] Fw: cars for the blind

  • From: "Valiant8086" <valiant8086@xxxxxxxxxxx>
  • To: <aarontech@xxxxxxxxxxxxx>
  • Date: Fri, 17 Jul 2009 23:50:31 -0400

----- Original Message ----- 
From: jim 
To: Undisclosed-Recipient:; 
Sent: Friday, July 17, 2009 6:33 PM
Subject: cars for the blind

Mark Riccobono, executive director of the National Federation of the Blind's
> Jernigan Institute, drives the Virginia Tech Blind Driver Challenge 
> vehicle through an obstacle course of traffic cones on a campus 
> parking lot. In the passenger seat is Greg Jannaman, who led the 
> student team within the mechanical engineering department during the 
> past year, and is monitoring the software of the vehicle. Credit: 
> Steven Mackay, Virginia Tech
> A student team in the Virginia Tech College of Engineering is 
> providing the blind with an opportunity many never thought possible: 
> The opportunity to drive.
> A retrofitted four-wheel dirt buggy developed by the Blind Driver 
> Challenge team (http://www.me.vt.edu/blinddriver/) from Virginia 
> Tech's Robotics and Mechanisms Laboratory uses laser range finders, an 
> instant voice command interface and a host of other innovative, 
> cutting-edge technology to guide blind drivers as they steer, brake, and
> Although in the early testing stage, the National Federation of the 
> Blind -- which spurred the project -- considers the vehicle a major 
> breakthrough for independent living of the visually impaired.
> "It was great!" said Wes Majerus, of Baltimore, the first blind person 
> to drive the buggy on a closed course at the Virginia Tech campus this 
> summer. Majerus is an access technology specialist with the National 
> Federation of the Blind's Jernigan Institute in Baltimore, a research 
> and training institute dedicated to developing technologies and 
> services to help the blind achieve independence.
> Majerus called his drive a liberating experience, adding that he drove 
> before on Nebraska farm roads with his father as a guide in the 
> passenger seat.
> Sitting inside the vehicle, a blind driver can turn the steering 
> wheel, stop and accelerate by following data from a computing unit 
> that uses sensory information from the laser range finder serving as 
> the 'eyes' of the driver, in addition to a combination of voice 
> commands and a vibrating vest as guides. A member of the Virginia Tech 
> student team sat next to Majerus in the passenger seat to monitor the
system's software operations.
> "It's a great first step," Majerus added. "As far as the differences 
> between human instructions and those given by the voice in the Blind 
> Driver Challenge car, the car's instructions are very precise. You use 
> the technology to act on the environment -- the driving course -- in a 
> very orderly manner. In some cases, the human passenger will be vague, 
> "turn left" -- does that mean just a small turn to the left, or are we 
> going for large amounts of turn?"
> Also driving the vehicle was Mark Riccobono, also of Baltimore, the 
> executive director of the Jernigan Institute, who also is blind. He 
> called his test drive historic. "This is sort of our going to the moon
> he said
> In 2004 Jernigan Institute challenged university research teams to 
> develop a vehicle that would one day allow the blind to drive. 
> Virginia Tech was the only university in the nation to accept the 
> nonprofit's call two years later, said Dennis Hong, director of the 
> Robotics and Mechanisms Laboratory, part of the Virginia Tech mechanical
engineering department.
> The National Federation of the Blind provided a $3,000 grant to launch 
> the project.
> "I thought it would be a very rewarding project, helping the blind," 
> said Hong, the current faculty adviser on the project. "We are not 
> only excited about the vehicle itself, but more than that, we are 
> excited about the potential of the many spin-off technologies from 
> this project that can be used for helping the blind in so many ways."
> The team will bring the Blind Driver Challenge vehicle to the National 
> Federation of the Blind's Youth Slam summer camp event held July 26 
> through Aug. 1 in College Park, Md. There, the team hopes to have 
> teenagers who would be obtaining their driver's licenses, but cannot 
> because of their blindness, drive the buggy.
> Wesley Majerus, an access technology specialist with the National 
> Federation of the Blind's Jernigan Institute, finishes driving the 
> Virginia Tech Blind Driver Challenge vehicle around a roped-off 
> driving course on a campus parking lot. The experience, he said, was
> Youth participants also are expected to remote control drive miniature 
> cars. Additionally, the car is expected to ride in a National 
> Federation of the Blind-sponsored parade in Washington D.C.
> "I most look forward to learning as much as I can from these bright 
> young students," said Greg Jannaman, who led the Virginia Tech student 
> team in his senior year and graduated in May with a bachelor's degree 
> in mechanical engineering. "Blind students from across the nation 
> apply to be selected to attend this summer camp. While we are there to 
> provide an educational experience for them, I can only imagine the 
> invaluable feedback and fresh new ideas that they will provide in return."
> Jannaman is excited about the vehicle's success. "There wasn't a 
> moment's hesitation with any of our blind drivers, whereas 
> blind-folded sighted drivers weren't as quick to let go of their 
> preconceptions," said Jannaman of Hendersonville, Tenn. "The blind 
> drivers actually performed better than their sighted counterparts. An 
> overwhelming sense of accomplishment overcame me as I simply rode 
> along while Wes and Mark successfully navigated the driving course without
my assistance."
> Early models of the Blind Driver Challenge vehicle relied more on 
> technologies for fully autonomous vehicles, previously developed by 
> Virginia Tech mechanical engineering students as part of the DARPA 
> Urban Challenge. The student team redesigned the vehicle so that the 
> blind motorist has complete control of the driving process, as any 
> sighted driver would.
> This change in approach led to new challenges, including how to 
> effectively convey the high bandwidth of information from the laser 
> sensors scanning the vehicle's surrounding environment to the driver 
> fast enough and accurate enough to allow safe driving. As a result, 
> the team developed non-visual interface technologies, including a 
> vibrating vest for feedback on speed, a click counter steering wheel 
> with audio cues, spoken commands for directional feedback, and a 
> unique tactile map interface that utilizes compressed air to provide 
> information about the road and obstacles surrounding the vehicle.
> Riccobono knows of mock ups and non-working "blind driver car" set-ups 
> from the past, but says this is the first working vehicle to put the 
> blind and visually impaired in control of the steering wheel. "Blind 
> people have brains, the capacity to make decisions," he said. "Blind 
> people want to live independent lives, why would they not want to drive?"
> Even once the technology is perfected, laws now barring the blind from 
> driving and public perception must be changed, Riccobono said. "This 
> is the piece that we know will be the most difficult," said Riccobono, 
> adding that the car must be near-perfected before the National 
> Federation of the Blind can truly push the car to law-makers and the 
> general public. He said this effort will take millions of dollars in
> The 2009-10 student team already is planning major changes to the 
> technology, including replacing the dirt buggy vehicle with a fully 
> electric car commonly used by traffic officers in downtown city centers.
> The all-electric vehicle would reduce the vibration which can cause 
> problems to the laser sensor, and it will provide clean electric power 
> for the computing units and that is better for the environment.
> Source: Virginia Tech (news : web)


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