[nfbmi-talk] Fw: [Blindad] Va. Tech designs vehicle that allows the blind to drive

fred olver 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
> http://groups.google.com/group/vipnews/t/bcc3e83952ab4fc1?hl=en
> ==============================================================================
>
> == 1 of 1 ==
> Date: Thurs, Aug 6 2009 6:34 pm
> From:
>
> 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
> return."
>
> 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
> environment.
>
> 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.
>
> SOURCE
>
> http://www.newsleader.com/article/20090715/NEWS01/90715001/1002/news01/Va.+Tech+designs+vehicle+that+allows+the+blind+to+drive
>
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