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Ford Escape with signal feature for Blind drivers from Virginia Tech in Jan

Virginia Tech brings good news for the visually impaired; the first ever vehicle that allows a blind person drive on his own. This January, Virginia Tech along with National Federation of the Blind is on their way to demonstrate a vehicle that enables a blind person drive independently. The effort is seen as a breakthrough in technology that has helped blind become self reliant not only in day to day life but also in undertaking tasks as difficult as driving their own car without help.

Researchers at Virginia Tech are on their way to modify a Ford Escape that can be driven by a blind person. The vehicle, Ford Escape will be launched at the Daytona International Speedway before the Rolex 24 race on January 29th, 2011 and will be driven by a blind person. The modified Ford is equipped with facilities that signals a blind driver and indicates when to turn through its DriveGrip vibrating gloves. A map of vehicles and objects is also created around the vehicle thanks to AirPix, a tablet that pushes compressed air out of multiple air holes.

The invention is the result of the NFB Blind Driver Challenge accepted by Virginia Tech three years ago to develop a vehicle that does not do the driving for the blind rather create a vehicle with nonvisual interfaces that allows the blind to actually make driving decision. This vehicle was not an autonomous car that helps a blind person go around but enables him to actually drive the car.

Virginia Tech has the experience of developing driverless vehicles in the year 2007 when it entered the DARPA Grand Challenge, a competition seeking driverless vehicles and came third. The company developed a vehicle that used sensors to perceive traffic and avoid objects and vehicles on the way. After the successful development of the vehicle Virginia Tech decided to enter the NFB challenge.

Dr. Dennis Hong, Director of Robotics and Mechanism Laboratory at Virginia Tech, while commenting about the vehicle added that the vehicle is not an autonomous car that drives on its own and takes a blind person to places, but it is a vehicle that he himself can drive taking driving decisions on his own. He said, “The object of the project was not to create a vehicle that would do the driving for a blind person, but allow a blind person to do the driving.”