Think we had problems with drunk drivers and cell phoners crashing cars? Just wait till blind people get behind the wheel. And that will happen, according to some Virginia Techies who put together this dirt buggy loaded with such stuff as a
laser to scan the vehicle surroundings, instant voice command to guide the driver to steer, brake and accelerate. The team also installed non-visual interface technologies, such as vibrating vest and click counter steering wheel with audio.
A challenge grant from the National Federation of the Blind’s Jernigan Institute enabled Virginia Tech students to build the vehicle. They are bringing in blind students from across the country this summer to learn to drive it.
I say let’s go for it. With training, these kids can certainly do no worse than texting teenagers or the bar-closers lurching to their vehicles at 2 am. In fact, as one of the organizers remarked,
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. The blind drivers actually performed better than their sighted counterparts.
Besides, these folks deserve to have access to the driving experience. A Ford project recently got some young blind people behind the wheel of a 2010 Mustang out in the desert. Roger Keeney narrates:
Heartwarming, eh? It’s a well-known fact that sensory-deprived people sharpen the active senses they do have. How ironic that those with senses intact work hard to dull them through activities like boozing and phoning while operating a car. Maybe someday the blind will learn to drive—and beat us all.
Do projects like Virginia Tech’s actually advance driving technology?