Technology at the Helm of Putting the Blind Behind the Wheel

Yes, you read right: The National Federation of the Blind and Virginia Tech have just announced they're working together to build a car that a visually impaired person can drive independently. And Florida has something to do with it.

It was announced Friday that the vehicle in question is scheduled to be demonstrated to the public before the race at the 2011 Rolex 24 in Daytona Beach, Florida, on January 29.

A Ford Escape hybrid equipped with nonvisual interface technology will be driven by a visually impaired person who will navigate part of the famed Daytona International Speedway course -- no easy task for those of us who can see.

"Three years ago, we accepted the NFB Blind Driver Challenge to develop a vehicle that can be driven by a blind person," says Dr. Dennis Hong, director of the Robotics and Mechanisms Laboratory at Virginia Tech.

"The challenge was not the development of an autonomous vehicle that could drive a blind person around, but rather the creation of nonvisual interfaces that would allow a blind person to actually make driving decisions."

But how will it be done, exactly? The nonvisual interface technology will use sensors to help drivers maneuver the vehicle based on information transmitted about their surroundings, such as the distance from objects and cars and whether they are in front or in a nearby lane.

The driver will put his or her hand over a tablet device and "see" the environment around the vehicle. On top of that, each driver will wear a glove with vibrating motors that -- depending on how it vibrates -- will give information about direction. But will this new technology scare other drivers off the road?

Learn more by watching the video below.

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Christine Borges