Students at Virginia Tech University have succeeded in breaking down another barrier for the disabled: Building a vehicle that allows the blind to drive.
Virginia Tech's Robotics and Mechanisms Laboratory developed a driver-assist system that uses laser range finders, an instant voice-command interface and a host of other cutting-edge technologies to guide blind drivers as they steer, brake and accelerate. The new system was put to good use last year at a summer camp where 20 blind and low-vision teens were able to take the wheel of a retrofitted dune buggy and navigate a course completely on their own.
"Although we are in the early stages of testing, the National Federation of the Blind -- which spurred the project -- considers the vehicle a major breakthrough for independent living of the visually impaired," said Dr. Dennis Hong, faculty adviser on the project.
Hong saw similarities between the technology used in Virginia Tech’s DARPA Urban Challenge, a military vehicle research and development program, and the requirements of the NFB’s Blind Driver Challenge.
"Our original goal was to simply make the vehicle accessible to the blind," noted Hong. "After speaking with the NFB, we decided to make a vehicle that could be independently operated by a blind driver."
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Watch this video by the Virginia Tech Robotics team Blind Driver Challenge