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Archive for Saturday, July 3, 2010

Driving blind? Maybe, with new high-tech car

July 3, 2010

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— 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 prototype vehicle next year equipped with technology that helps a blind person drive a car independently.

The technology, called “nonvisual interfaces,” uses sensors to let a blind driver 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 revolutionize mobility and challenge long-held assumptions about limitations.

“We’re exploring areas that have previously been regarded as unexplorable,” said Dr. Marc Maurer, president of the National Federation of the Blind. “We’re moving 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 demonstration 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 experience.

The vehicle will use nonvisual interfaces to help a blind driver operate the car. One interface, called DriveGrip, uses gloves with vibrating motors on areas that cover the knuckles. The vibrations signal to the driver when and where to turn.

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