Technology.am (Aug 2, 2009) — Virginia Tech students designed a revolutionary car that allowed blind drivers to steer, brake and accelerate without any help from human passengers.
The Blind Driver Challenge team at Virginia Tech’s Robotics and Mechanisms Laboratory has designed a new high-tech vehicle for blind people. The car has a laser sensor to figure out the road ahead. A special vibrating vest worn by drivers communicates speed and warns when to stop. And there is a headset relays voice commands signalling which way to turn.
The steering wheel is hooked up to a distance monitor that gathers information from laser range finders, and it uses voice software to tells the driver how far to turn the wheel. For example, the monitor will tell the driver “turn left three clicks.” As the driver does that, the monitor makes three clicking noises.
A vibrating vest provides cues to follow when accelerating and decelerating. The vest vibrates in different places — the back, the belly and the shoulders — to convey different commands. When the entire vest vibrates, it means, “Slam on the brakes!”
The car was born of a challenge the National Federation of the Blind’s Jernigan Institute issued in 2004 when it called on universities to develop a vehicle for the blind. Virginia Tech accepted the challenge in 2006 — the only university to do so — and received a $3,000 grant to begin the project.
Twenty blind people took turns maneuvering the retrofitted dune buggy Friday in a parking lot at the University of Maryland. The test drive capped a National Federation for the Blind summer camp for 200 blind youth from across the country.