Government Technology

Blind Take the Wheel in Voice Interface Vehicle


Blind Take the Wheel
Blind Take the Wheel 1

July 15, 2009 By

Photo: Wesley Majerus, an access technology specialist with the National Federation of the Blind's Jernigan Institute, finishes driving the Virginia Tech Blind Driver Challenge vehicle around a roped-off driving course on a campus parking lot. (Steven Mackay, Virginia Tech)

One day, it is likely that the blind will eligible for drivers licenses to operate special environment sensing cars. And that day may not be too far away.

In fact, a student team in the Virginia Tech College of Engineering has already built such a car and is giving select blind participants the opportunity to drive. They retrofitted a four-wheel dirt buggy developed by the Blind Driver Challenge team from Virginia Tech's Robotics and Mechanisms Laboratory. Using 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, the blind are now able to safely drive the vehicle.

And although the project is still in the early testing stage, the National Federation of the Blind considers the vehicle a major breakthrough for independent living of the visually impaired, according to a news release issued today.

"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 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.

Photo: Mark Riccobono, executive director of the National Federation of the Blind's Jernigan Institute, drives the Virginia Tech Blind Driver Challenge vehicle through an obstacle course of traffic cones on a campus parking lot. In the passenger seat is Greg Jannaman, who led the student team within the mechanical engineering department during the past year, and is monitoring the software of the vehicle. (Steven Mackay, Virginia Tech)

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

 

 


| More

Comments

Add Your Comment

You are solely responsible for the content of your comments. We reserve the right to remove comments that are considered profane, vulgar, obscene, factually inaccurate, off-topic, or considered a personal attack.

In Our Library

White Papers | Exclusives Reports | Webinar Archives | Best Practices and Case Studies
Better security. Better government.
Powering security at all levels of government with simpler, more connected IT.
Cybersecurity in an "All-IP World" Are You Prepared?
In a recent survey conducted by Public CIO, over 125 respondents shared how they protect their environments from cyber threats and the challenges they see in an all-IP world. Read how your cybersecurity strategies and attitudes compare with your peers.
Maintain Your IT Budget with Consistent Compliance Practices
Between the demands of meeting federal IT compliance mandates, increasing cybersecurity threats, and ever-shrinking budgets, it’s not uncommon for routine maintenance tasks to slip among state and local government IT departments. If it’s been months, or even only days, since you have maintained your systems, your agency may not be prepared for a compliance audit—and that could have severe financial consequences. Regardless of your mission, consistent systems keep your data secure, your age
View All

Featured Papers