Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Blind Driver Challenge: The who, what, where, when and why

The National Federation of the Blind’s Blind Driver Challenge is one of the most innovative and far-reaching research initiatives of the nonprofit’s research center, the Jernigan Institute. It is an initiative to develop non-visual interface technology that conveys real-time information about a driving environment so that it will be possible for a blind person to one day safely and independently operate a car. 

As NFB and its project partners -- the College of Engineering at Virginia Tech and TORC Technologies -- work to ensure that a blind person can access the information necessary to confidently press the accelerator of an automobile, the team also is accelerating development of other nonvisual access technologies that will ensure that blind people will remain independent and competitive.

This ground-breaking research initiative of our NFB Jernigan Institute challenges universities, technology developers, and other interested innovators to establish NFB Blind Driver Challenge teams, in collaboration with the NFB, to build interface technologies that will empower blind people to drive a car independently.

The “Challenge” is not the development of an autonomous car that drives a blind person around, but to develop a non-visual interface for a car that can convey real-time information about driving conditions to the blind so that we can use our own capacity to think and react to interpret these data and maneuver a car safely.

Image: Wesley Majerus finishes driving the first prototype Virginia Tech Blind Driver Challenge vehicle on a campus driving course in May 2009. In the passenger seat is Greg Jannaman, who led the student design team during its public debut year. Photo by Steven Mackay

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