Virginia Tech's Robotics and Mechanisms Laboratory Blind Driver Challenge student team has retrofitted a four-wheel dirt buggy with laser range finders, an instant voice command interface, and several other technologies to enable blind people to drive. The National Federation of the Blind, which sponsored the team through a grant, says the vehicle is a major breakthrough in independent living for the visually impaired. The buggy has been test driven by a blind driver on a closed course at the Virginia Tech campus.
"It's a great first step," says Wes Majerus, the first blind person to drive the buggy. "As far as the differences between human instructions and those given by the voice in the Blind Driver Challenge car, the car's instructions are very precise."
Dennis Hong, director of the Robotics and Mechanisms Laboratory and faculty adviser to the project, says the project has great potential for spin-off technologies that could be used to help the blind in numerous ways. Early models of the blind-driver vehicle relied more on technologies used in fully autonomous vehicles, but the buggy was redesigned so blind motorists would have complete control of the driving process. The change forced the team to develop non-visual interface technologies, including a vibrating vest for feedback on speed, a click counter steering wheel with audio cues, spoken commands for directional feedback, and a tactile map interface that uses compressed air to provide information on the road and surrounding obstacles.
From Virginia Tech News
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