[nfbmi-talk] Fw: [Blindad] Va. Tech designs vehicle that allows the blind to drive
goodfolks at charter.net
Fri Aug 7 13:18:46 CDT 2009
----- Original Message -----
From: "Danny Dyer" <ddyer1 at gmail.com>
To: <blindad at babel-fish.us>
Sent: Friday, August 07, 2009 11:21 AM
Subject: [Blindad] Va. Tech designs vehicle that allows the blind to drive
> This From VIP News Group Is Very Interesting!
> TOPIC: Va. Tech designs vehicle that allows the blind to drive
> == 1 of 1 ==
> Date: Thurs, Aug 6 2009 6:34 pm
> NewsLeader.com, VA, USA
> Va. Tech designs vehicle that allows the blind to drive
> Staff Reports
> July 15, 2009
> BLACKSBURG - A student team in the Virginia Tech College of Engineering is
> providing the blind with
> an opportunity many never thought possible: The opportunity to drive.
> A retrofitted four-wheel dirt buggy developed by the Blind Driver
> Challenge team from Virginia Tech's
> Robotics and Mechanisms Laboratory uses laser range finders, an instant
> voice command interface and
> a host of other innovative, cutting-edge technology to guide blind drivers
> as they steer, brake, and
> accelerate. Although in the early testing stage, the National Federation
> of the Blind -- which
> spurred the project -- considers the vehicle a major breakthrough for
> independent living of the
> visually impaired.
> "It was great!" said Wes Majerus of Baltimore, the first blind person to
> drive the buggy on a closed
> course at the Virginia Tech campus earlier this summer. Majerus is an
> access technology specialist
> with the National Federation of the Blind's Jernigan Institute in
> Baltimore, a research and training
> institute dedicated to developing technologies and services to help the
> blind achieve independence.
> Majerus called his drive a liberating experience, adding that he drove
> before on Nebraska farm roads
> with his father as a guide in the passenger seat.
> Sitting inside the vehicle, a blind driver can turn the steering wheel,
> stop and accelerate by
> following data from a computing unit that uses sensory information from
> the laser range finder
> serving as the 'eyes' of the driver, in addition to a combination of voice
> commands and a vibrating
> vest as guides. A member of the Virginia Tech student team sat next to
> Majerus in the passenger seat
> to monitor the system's software operations.
> "It's a great first step," Majerus added. "As far as the differences
> between human instructions and
> those given by the voice in the Blind Driver Challenge car, the car's
> instructions are very precise.
> You use the technology to act on the environment -- the driving course --
> in a very orderly manner.
> In some cases, the human passenger will be vague, "turn left" -- does that
> mean just a small turn to
> the left, or are we going for large amounts of turn?"
> Also driving the vehicle was Mark Riccobono, also of Baltimore, the
> executive director of the
> Jernigan Institute, who also is blind. He called his test drive historic.
> "This is sort of our going
> to the moon project," he said
> In 2004 Jernigan Institute challenged university research teams to develop
> a vehicle that would one
> day allow the blind to drive. Virginia Tech was the only university in the
> nation to accept the
> nonprofit's call two years later, said Dennis Hong, director of the
> Robotics and Mechanisms
> Laboratory, part of the Virginia Tech mechanical engineering department.
> The National Federation of
> the Blind provided a $3,000 grant to launch the project.
> "I thought it would be a very rewarding project, helping the blind," said
> Hong, the current faculty
> adviser on the project. "We are not only excited about the vehicle itself,
> but more than that, we
> are excited about the potential of the many spin-off technologies from
> this project that can be used
> for helping the blind in so many ways."
> The team will bring the Blind Driver Challenge vehicle to the National
> Federation of the Blind's
> Youth Slam summer camp event held July 26 through Aug. 1 in College Park,
> Md. There, the team hopes
> to have teenagers who would be obtaining their driver's licenses, but
> cannot because of their
> blindness, drive the buggy.
> Youth participants also are expected to remote control drive miniature
> cars. Additionally, the car
> is expected to ride in a National Federation of the Blind-sponsored parade
> in Washington D.C.
> "I most look forward to learning as much as I can from these bright young
> students," said Greg
> Jannaman, who led the Virginia Tech student team in his senior year and
> graduated in May with a
> bachelor's degree in mechanical engineering. "Blind students from across
> the nation apply to be
> selected to attend this summer camp. While we are there to provide an
> educational experience for
> them, I can only imagine the invaluable feedback and fresh new ideas that
> they will provide in
> Jannaman is excited about the vehicle's success. "There wasn't a moment's
> hesitation with any of our
> blind drivers, whereas blind-folded sighted drivers weren't as quick to
> let go of their
> preconceptions," said Jannaman of Hendersonville, Tenn. "The blind drivers
> actually performed better
> than their sighted counterparts. An overwhelming sense of accomplishment
> overcame me as I simply
> rode along while Wes and Mark successfully navigated the driving course
> without my assistance."
> 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. 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.
> Riccobono knows of mock ups and non-working "blind driver car" set-ups
> from the past, but says this
> is the first working vehicle to put the blind and visually impaired in
> control of the steering
> wheel. "Blind people have brains, the capacity to make decisions," he
> said. "Blind people want to
> live independent lives, why would they not want to drive?"
> Even once the technology is perfected, laws now barring the blind from
> driving and public perception
> must be changed, Riccobono said. "This is the piece that we know will be
> the most difficult," said
> Riccobono, adding that the car must be near-perfected before the National
> Federation of the Blind
> can truly push the car to law-makers and the general public. He said this
> effort will take millions
> of dollars in development.
> 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
> Hong is a National Science Foundation CAREER Award recipient. He received
> his bachelor's degree in
> mechanical engineering from the University of Wisconsin-Madison in 1994,
> and his master's and
> doctoral degrees in mechanical engineering from Purdue University in 1999
> and 2002, respectively.
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