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Can the Blind Drive Using Non-visual Interfacing?

Losing my vision took away one of my greatest joys. Driving a car was a great form of entertainment for me. I enjoyed the convenience of hopping into my automobile and going for a drive on a Sunday afternoon. I enjoyed taking a scenic drive to a place on a map I have never visited. I was very intrigued when I read about technology developed that would allow a visually impaired/blind person the opportunity to experience what its like to drive a vehicle.


Scientist develops technology allowing a blind person to drive.

Virginia Tech University decided to take on the challenge offered by the National Federation of the Blind. The NFB challenged Virginia Tech University to develop technology allowing a visually impaired/blind person to drive an automobile independently. Researchers at the university developed software called non-visual interfacing which uses motion sensors to recognize the surroundings of a car. The software transmits information to the driver. The information transmitted allows the driver to decide what to do next.


Whatís the history of the technology?

Virginia Tech University in 2007 entered a robotic car into the competition called the DARPA Grand Challenge. The contestants were challenged to design a driverless automobile. The competitors won third place in the challenge. The universityís robotics program was funded by the US Military.

The President of the National Federation of the Blind read about the results of the technology and offered the challenge to the university to develop a car that would allow a blind person to operate the vehicle independently. Virginia tech researchers fitted the car with a system of laser sensors and cameras that transmitted information to a vest worn by the driver. The technology detects objects around the vehicle and sends a message to the vest. The vest is designed to buzz in different styles. Each style of buzz informs the driver what to do next such as; speed up, slow down, turn right or turn left. The sensors and cameras were designed to detect objects in front, back and both sides of the vehicle.


Whatís the most recent form of non-visual Interfacing Technology?

Researchers have designed a form of technology called DriveGrip. DriveGrip is a pair of gloves fitted with vibrating motors covering the knuckles of each hand. DriveGrip technology uses motion detecting equipment with cameras connected to the motors covering the hands that send vibrations to the driverís hands providing information. The driver is taught to interpret the information to make decisions while driving. The driver learns to speed up, slow down, turn right or turn left according to the information received from the motion detectors and cameras.


Whatís the reality of the blind driving a car?

Of course, the reality of a blind person driving a car is still several years into the future but it is fun to dream. The thought of driving a car on a race track would be a great motivator and offer a source of excitement into the lives of the visually impaired/blind. I would love the opportunity to drive a car around a race track. One of my desires before losing my vision was to race a car on a dirt track. Who knows, I may still make my desire or dream come true. If researchers continue to develop the non-visual interfacing technology then, my dream lives on.

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