Monday, January 17, 2011

History of the Blind Driver Challenge

The Blind Driver Challenge was first formally issued at the opening of the National Federation of the Blind's Jernigan Institute in January 2004. However, Marc Maurer, president of the NFB, previously discussed years earlier the development of a highway-ready vehicle that can be driven by the blind. While people have speculated for decades about autonomous vehicles, the NFB Blind Driver Challenge presented a paradigm shift.

The NFB Jernigan Institute -- the only research and training center developed and directed by the blind themselves -- now provides the vehicle for technological innovation that will empower the blind to drive. At the 2004 opening of the Jernigan Institute, a mock-up of a vehicle drivable by the blind was on display. Note: Not a vehicle that drives the blind, but a vehicle with an innovative interface and feedback system that allows a blind person to make their own driving decisions. Independent.

Since the launch of the NFB Blind Driver Challenge in 2004, the NFB has been working to capture imaginations and create a perceptual shift from autonomous vehicles to vehicles drivable by the blind. The NFB has undertaken efforts to engage universities in the challenge.

As of fall 2009, Virginia Tech is the only institution to take on the NFB Blind Driver Challenge. Virginia Tech’s work during the 2008-09 school year and programming offered the first prototype Blind Driver vehicle at the 2009 NFB Youth Slam has created new energy around the initiative. The vehicle was a hit – garnering a front page story with “The Washington Post” and a spot on CBS’ “The Early Show.”

For a more detailed history of the Blind Driver Challenge, please read Mark Riccobono’s article, Driving Independence and Innovation Through Imagination, which appeared in the December 2009 issue of the Braille Monitor.

Text by National Federation of the Blind. Photo by Steven Mackay/Virginia Tech

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