A group of students at the Virginia Tech College of Engineering are building a car for the blind. With the assistance of a laser range finder, the car’s on-board computer guides the driver to avoid obstacles. Now we’re all for helping blind folks take a greater command of their lives, but the idea seems a bit silly: if your technology is good enough to tell the driver how to drive, then it must be good enough to control the pedals and the steering wheel. But we may be wrong, and this seems like an interesting engineering project regardless.
From Virginia Tech:
Early models of the Blind Driver Challenge vehicle relied more on technologies for fully autonomous vehicles, previously developed by Virginia Tech mechanical engineering students as part of the DARPA Urban Challenge (www.vt.edu/spotlight/achievement/2007-10-29_victortango/2007-10-29-victortango.html). The student team redesigned the vehicle so that the blind motorist has complete control of the driving process, as any sighted driver would.
This change in approach led to new challenges, including how to effectively convey the high bandwidth of information from the laser sensors scanning the vehicle’s surrounding environment to the driver fast enough and accurate enough to allow safe driving. As a result, the team developed non-visual interface technologies, including a vibrating vest for feedback on speed, a click counter steering wheel with audio cues, spoken commands for directional feedback, and a unique tactile map interface that utilizes compressed air to provide information about the road and obstacles surrounding the vehicle.
The 2009-10 student team already is planning major changes to the technology, including replacing the dirt buggy vehicle with a fully electric car commonly used by traffic officers in downtown city centers. The all-electric vehicle would reduce the vibration which can cause problems to the laser sensor, and it will provide clean electric power for the computing units and that is better for the environment.
Press release: Blind can take wheel with vehicle designed by university engineering design team…
Project page: Blind Driver Challenge…