Self-driving car will put blind on the road to independence
Published 03/07/2010 | 05:00
GETTING behind the wheel has long been considered impossible for the blind -- but that could soon change.
The US National Federation of the Blind and Virginia Tech plan to demonstrate a prototype vehicle next year, equipped with technology that helps a blind person drive a car independently.
The technology, called 'non-visual interfaces', uses sensors to let a blind driver manoeuvre a car based on information transmitted about their surroundings -- such as whether another car or object is nearby, in front or in a neighbouring lane.
Dr Marc Maurer, president of the National Federation of the Blind, said: "We're moving away from the theory that blindness ends the capacity of human beings to make contributions to society."
The vehicle has its roots in Virginia Tech's 2007 entry into the DARPA Grand Challenge, a competition for driverless vehicles funded by the US Defence Department's research arm.
The university's team won third place for a self-driving vehicle that used sensors to perceive traffic and avoid crashing into other cars and objects.
Virginia Tech's team then responded to a challenge from the National Federation of the Blind to build a car that could be driven by a blind person.
The results will be demonstrated next January at the Daytona International Speedway.
However, Dr Dennis Hong, who directs Virginia Tech's Robotics and Mechanisms Laboratory, cautioned: "This is not going to be a product until it is proven to be 100pc safe."