blind_html Fwd: [gui-talk] Fwd: Article: Blind can take wheel with new vehicle

  • From: Nimer Jaber <nimerjaber1@xxxxxxxxx>
  • To: blind_html@xxxxxxxxxxxxx
  • Date: Fri, 17 Jul 2009 09:28:24 -0600

Not sure I would trust this, but it's good to know the technology is there.

Nimer J

-------- Original Message --------
Subject: [gui-talk] Fwd: Article: Blind can take wheel with new vehicle
Date: Fri, 17 Jul 2009 16:01:22 +1000
From: Steve Pattison <srp@xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx>
Reply-To: NFBnet GUI Talk Mailing List <gui-talk@xxxxxxxxxx>
To: Access L <access-l@xxxxxxxxxxxx>

From: Nancy Lynn freespirit52@xxxxxxxxxxx
To: Missouri Chat List chat@xxxxxxxxxxx

> 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

A student team in the Virginia Tech College of Engineering is providing
the blind with an opportunity many never thought possible: The 
to drive.

A retrofitted four-wheel dirt buggy developed by the Blind Driver
Challenge team ( 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 accelerate.
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

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 
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 

"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 
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 
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 
his test drive historic. "This is sort of our going to the moon project,"
he said

In 2004 Jernigan Institute challenged university research teams to 
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 
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 

"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 
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 liberating.

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 
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 
of Hendersonville, Tenn. "The blind drivers actually performed better 
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 
and visually impaired in control of the steering wheel. "Blind people 
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, 
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 
this effort will take millions of dollars in development.

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 
the computing units and that is better for the environment.

Source: Virginia Tech (news : web)

Regards Steve
Email:  srp@xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx
MSN Messenger:  internetuser383@xxxxxxxxxxx
Skype:  steve1963

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