July 17, 2009

Vehicle gives blind driver non-visual cues

U.S. scientists say they have developed a vehicle where the blind driver is in complete control.

Mark Riccobono of the National Federation of the Blind's Jernigan Institute in Baltimore says the the Blind Drivers Challenge Vehicle -- developed by Virginia Tech's Robotics and Mechanisms Laboratory in Blacksburg, Va., -- gives the blind driver control of the steering wheel as well as the other aspects of the driving process.

Blind people have brains, the capacity to make decisions, Riccobono says in a statement. Blind people want to live independent lives, why would they not want to drive?

The challenge was to quickly convey to the driver the wealth of information coming from the laser sensors scanning the vehicle's surrounding environment. They developed several non-visual feedback mechanisms for the driver including a vibrating vest to gauge speed, a click counter steering wheel and other audio cues and a tactile map using compressed air to provide road and obstacle information.

The Challenge Vehicle -- presently a dirt buggy -- will eventually be a fully electric car similar to those now used by traffic officers in several city centers, the researchers say.

The findings are at: http://www.me.vt.edu/blinddriver.