There’s more to driving than meets the eye. That’s the lesson a group of students at Virginia Tech University
recently learned as part of a project to develop a vehicle that puts blind and visually impaired people in the driver’s seat.
Virginia Tech University’s effort is the latest use in a growing market
of robotic technology.
The team retrofitted
a four-wheel dune buggy, shown below, which uses non-visual driver interfaces, such as an audio system, a tactile map and laser range finders to direct drivers as they maneuver the vehicle, Wtop.com reported. A vibrating vest is attached to the inside of the driver’s seat belt, which relays information such as speed and heading. Laser sensors, which scan the area around the vehicle, also convey important pieces of information to guide drivers.
For example, a click counter on the steering wheel tells drivers when to turn with spoken commends offering direction, while a tactile map that uses compressed air offers drivers road and obstacle information, Wtop reported.
“Blind people have brains, the capacity to make decisions,” Mark Riccobono of the Jernigan Institute said in a statement. “Blind people want to live independent lives. Why would they not want to drive?”
A video showing how the dune buggy works is available here
The Blind Driver Challenge will reportedly make its next stop at the National Federation of the Blind's Youth Slam summer camp for teens July 26 through Aug. 1 in College Park, Md. Eventually, the Virginia Tech team plans to replace
the dirt buggy with an all-electric car, similar to what traffic officers now use, UPI.com reported.
While the dune buggy may be the first recent example of how robotics can help the visually impaired, other technology helps the blind better communicate. As SDNzone reported, Verizon Wireless
is helping visually impaired customers navigate their mobile phone services by providing audio feedback for messaging, dialing and other tasks. TALKS services offers voice-to-text translation with a new assistive technology that converts displayed text into “highly intelligible” speech.
Amy Tierney is a Web editor for SDNzone, covering unified communications, telepresence, IP communications industry trends and mobile technologies. To read more of Amy's articles, please visit her columnist page.