[tabi] a new approach for a car for the blind

  • From: "Allison and Chip Orange" <acorange@xxxxxxxxxxx>
  • To: <tabi@xxxxxxxxxxxxx>
  • Date: Sat, 3 Jul 2010 18:15:04 -0400

WASHINGTON (AP) -- Could a blind person drive a car? Researchers are trying
to make
that far-fetched notion a reality.
The National Federation of the Blind and Virginia Tech plan to demonstrate a
vehicle next year equipped with technology that helps a blind person drive a
The technology, called "nonvisual interfaces," uses sensors to let a blind
maneuver a car based on information transmitted to him about his
surroundings: whether
another car or object is nearby, in front of him or in a neighboring lane.
Advocates for the blind consider it a "moon shot," a goal similar to
President John
F. Kennedy's pledge to land a man on the moon. For many blind people,
driving a car
long has been considered impossible. But researchers hope the project could
mobility and challenge long-held assumptions about limitations.
"We're exploring areas that have previously been regarded as unexplorable,"
Dr. Marc Maurer, president of the National Federation of the Blind. "We're
away from the theory that blindness ends the capacity of human beings to
make contributions
to society."
The Baltimore-based organization announced its plans for the vehicle
at a news conference Friday in Daytona Beach, Fla.
A blind person, who has not yet been chosen, will drive the vehicle on a
course near
the famed Daytona race track and attempt to simulate a typical driving
Maurer first talked about building an automobile that the blind could drive
a decade ago when he launched the organization's 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."
The vehicle has its roots in Virginia Tech's 2007 entry into the DARPA Grand
a competition for driverless vehicles funded by the Defense Department's
arm. The university's team won third place for a self-driving vehicle that
used sensors
to perceive traffic, avoid crashing into other cars and objects and run like
other vehicle.
Following their success, Virginia Tech's team responded to a challenge from
the National
Federation of the Blind to help build a car that could be driven by a blind
Virginia Tech first created a dune buggy as part of a feasibility study that
sensor lasers and cameras to act as the eyes of the vehicle. A vibrating
vest was
used to direct the driver to speed up, slow down or make turns.
The blind organization was impressed by the results and urged the
researchers to
keep pushing. The results will be demonstrated next January on a modified
Ford Escape
sport utility vehicle at the Daytona International Speedway before the Rolex
24 race.
The latest vehicle will use nonvisual interfaces to help a blind driver
operate the
car. One interface, called DriveGrip, uses gloves with vibrating motors on
that cover the knuckles. The vibrations signal to the driver when and where
to turn.
Another interface, called AirPix, is a tablet about half the size of a sheet
of paper
with multiple air holes, almost like those found on an air hockey game.
air coming out of the device helps inform the driver of his or her
essentially creating a map of the objects around a vehicle. It would show
there's another vehicle in a nearby lane or an obstruction in the road.
A blind person, who has not yet been chosen, will drive the vehicle on a
course near
the famed Daytona race track and attempt to simulate a typical driving
Dr. Dennis Hong, a mechanical engineering professor at Virginia Tech who
leads the
research, said the technology could someday help a blind driver operate a
but could also be used on conventional vehicles to make them safer or on
other applications.
Hong, who directs the school's Robotics and Mechanisms Laboratory, said they
to turn the technology into a consumer product. But he added, "This is not
to be a product until its proven 100 percent safe."
Advocates for the blind say it will take time before society accepts the
of blind drivers and that the safety of the technology will need to be
proven through
years of testing. But more than anything, they say it's part of a broader
to change the way people perceive the blind.
Mark Riccobono, executive director of the NFB's Jernigan Institute, said
when he
walks down the street with his 3-year-old son, many people might think he,
as a blind
person, is being guided by his son.
"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."

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