DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. – The National Federation of the Blind (NFB) and Virginia Tech’s College of Engineering, today, unveiled the first street vehicle equipped with technology allowing a blind person to drive independently. The vehicle was demonstrated to the public as part of pre-race activities at the 2011 Rolex 24 at Daytona.
The Ford Escape, equipped with nonvisual interface technology, will be driven by a blind individual who will navigate part of the famed Daytona International Speedway course on Jan. 29, 2011.
“The National Federation of the Blind is dedicated to the development of innovative technology to improve the lives of blind Americans, and Virginia Tech has accepted our challenge to apply nonvisual interfaces to the task of driving, which has always been wrongly considered impossible for blind people," said Dr. Marc Maurer, president of the National Federation of the Blind. "But we are not trying to build a technology alone. We are trying to build a technology that can be combined with an intellect to do things that neither could do alone …
"This demonstration will break down the wall of stereotypes and misconceptions that prevent our full integration into society by showing the public that the blind have the same capacities as everyone else," Mauer added. "Our only challenge is access to the information we need.”
Dr. Dennis Hong, director of the Robotics and Mechanisms Laboratory at Virginia Tech, said the college accepted NFB’s challenge three years ago.
"The challenge was not the development of an autonomous vehicle that could drive a blind person around, but rather the creation of nonvisual interfaces that would allow a blind person to actually make driving decisions. The first-generation prototype was demonstrated with a modified dune buggy at the NFB Youth Slam in the summer of 2009. We are pleased to work with NFB and Grand-Am to demonstrate the second-generation prototype at the Rolex 24 festivities.”
For more information about the NFB, visit www.nfb.org.