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Students Build a Car the Blind Can Drive

By Ben on Fri Jul 24 2009
Students Build a Car the Blind Can Drive
Car  |  Other
Virginia Tech undergrads have built a car that the blind can drive. This semi-autonomous vehicle is equipped with laser range finders, computer with voice software and other sensory technology that helps direct visually impaired drivers to take the wheel on a closed course:
We are not only excited about the vehicle itself, but also the potential spinoff technologies from this project that could end up helping the blind,¡± Dennis Hong, the director of the university¡¯s Robotics and Mechanisms Laboratory said.
"The Blind Driver Challenge team at Virginia Tech¡¯s Robotics and Mechanisms Laboratory built the buggy. 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 ¡ª the back, the belly and the shoulders ¡ª to convey different commands. When the entire vest vibrates, it means, ¡°Slam on the brakes!¡±
¡°Originally we had a vibrating chair, but the vehicle was also vibrating on account of the motor, so drivers had some difficulty differentiating between the two,¡± Hong said. ¡°The 2009-2010 team will be applying this technology to an electric vehicle to eliminate the vibration caused by the motor altogether.¡±
Hong wants to continue working on a tactile map interface. The system, called Airpix, shoots compressed air through tiny holes on a screen in real time, to provide a layout of the area surrounding the vehicle. Drivers can ¡°read¡± the map with a hand, much like Braille. Hong said he needs more feedback from the blind and visually impaired to refine the system.
All this technology is clearly in its earliest stage,s and we¡¯re a long way from the day when the blind join us in slogging through the morning commute. But the Federation for the Blind hailed the vehicle and the promise it offers.
¡°It¡¯s a great first step,¡± Wes Majerus, an access-technology expert for the federation, said in a press release. ¡°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. You use the technology to act on the environment ¡ª the driving course ¡ª in a very orderly manner.¡±

Via Wired, neatorama