Dennis Hong, Associate Professor at Virginia Tech is busy designing a car for the blind. Woah, wait a minute! A car for the blind, you say? One may think that that’s pretty much impossible, but you will be surprised to see how close the concept is to completion.
Dr. Hong’s car for the blind is a work in progress, aka a prototype. It all started when he was contacted by the National Federation of the Blind to design a car for the visually impaired that would not only give instructions (turn right, turn left, stop), but also allow them to make active decisions (speed up, slow down, stop). In the initial stages he created a dune buggy prototype, but the problem with that was that it was designed to be in a very controlled environment – a parking lot, if you will. The real challenge was to develop a real car that would be driven on real roads.
Here is that car..
The car primarily acts on three principles:
Perception: Since the car is driven by people who cannot see, it needs to perceive the environment and gather information for the driver. The car uses measurement units that measure acceleration and fuse that information with a GPS unit to get an estimated location of the car. There are two cameras on the road that detect lanes on the road, and a laser range finder that detects obstacles around the car.
Computation: This is where all the information gathered by the perception components are processed and conveyed to the driver. As I mentioned above, this car doesn’t just give the driver instructions, but also allows them to make decisions. Well, how do you convey instructions and information at the same time to someone who is blind?
Non Visual Interfaces: Using NVIs. The car uses several Non Visual Interfaces that assist the driver in gauging the environment and making decisions.
DriveGrip: These are gloves that the driver wears that have vibration components on the knuckles part. These gloves convey instructions on how to steer (direction and intensity).
SpeedStrip: This is a chair with vibrating elements that convey instructions on how to use gas and brake pedals.
AirPix: This is an interface out of which compressed air comes out. The cameras on the car send information to AirPix which in turn is sensed by the driver.
Watch the video of Dr. Hong presenting this idea at TED. At 5:30 in the video, you will see a successful implementation of this concept in the real world.
This prototype does what it is supposed to do, but is it easy to introduce this car in the market? How would society react to such a vehicle? Would blind people be accepted as “real” drivers? Would rules be amended to provide driving licenses to blind people? Dr. Hong also mentions in his talk that this concept is not just for the blind. It can very well be used to make driving a lot more safer and easier even for people with vision.
What are your thoughts?
Read more here: CNN
[Thanks for sharing this, Darby!]