Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Blind Driver Challenge at Daytona's Rolex24

The second-generation Blind Driver Challenge vehicle is now at the world-famous Daytona International Speedway, just days away from its public demonstration at the Rolex 24 Race. There, thousands of race fans will watch as a blind person takes the wheel of this modified 2010 Ford Escape Hybrid SUV drive the in-field track. Also expected to be cheering in the stands: Hundreds of blind people who are part of the nonprofit Federation.

“This historic demonstration of a blind person independently driving an automobile will be a tremendous exhibition of the capacity of a blind person using innovative non-visual access technology to perform a task most people thought impossible for a blind person,” said Anil Lewis, director of strategic communications for the National Federation of the Blind. “The foundation of many misperceptions about blind people and blindness will be shaken.”

The Blind Deriver Challenge is part of a history making initiative – pitched by the Federation, and accepted by the Virginia Tech College of Engineering’s Robotics and Mechanisms Laboratory -- that one day could allow blind people to drive an automobile. Partnering with the Federation and Virginia Tech is TORC Technologies, based in Blacksburg, Va.

The Rolex24event is a 24-hour endurance race for sports cars. The 49th running of the event is set for Jan. 29-30, 2011, at Daytona and will be accompanied by 24 hours of other events. The Blind Driver Challenge is scheduled to take the track at 11:30 a.m. (Eastern) Jan. 29. (Neither car will take the oval track.) The official Rolex 24 race starts at 3:30 p.m. Saturday and runs until 3:30 p.m. Sunday.

Added Dennis Hong, a Virginia Tech associate professor of mechanical engineering and director of RoMeLa: “As we stand on the race track of the Daytona International Speedway, the sheer scale of it takes our breath away. Imagining the tens of thousands of spectators cheering and watching the world's first public demo of our hard work makes my heart pound. ‘How many times in your life time do you think you have an opportunity to change the world?’ I ask my students. Developing technology to help the society, we are indeed changing the world right here, right now...”

Follow this blog, or join us on twitter for updates as the public demo nears. http://twitter.com/VTEngineering.

Image: One of the Blind Driver Challenge vehicles at the Virginia International Raceway in Danville, Va., on January 18, 2011. Photo by Steven Mackay

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