Feb 182011

Oh, yes, a lot of blind people jokes pop to mind when I think about blind drivers at the Daytona 500 speedway. Images of the Three Blind Mice dance through my brain along with Stevie Wonder and Ray Charles playing tennis.

But, this is not joke. This is one of those future is now stories. With the aid of advanced robotics from Virginia Tech (the same place a madman blinded by rage shot and killed students a few years back) the Daytona International Speedway became a part of history.

A legally blind driver was asked to sit inside a car and dodge cardboard boxes as they were thrown out of a truck along the speedway. Sounds like a cruel joke or college hazing doesn’t it. But, no.

The technology is real and it works. According to Virginia Tech, “The SUVs have been modified with TORC’s ByWire XGV technology, and coupled with such technology as laser range finders on the front and rear of the vehicle, cameras, and non-visual driver interface technologies such as a pair of wired gloves and a modified seat cushion … The combined technology is used to help direct a driver on when to accelerate, brake, steer in a particular direction and other actions.”

Blind Driver

Blind Driver

The modified seat cushion is of especial interest to me. Talk about flying by the seat of your pants – literally. While the car is not street legal, it does give us hope. Transportation has long been a huge issue for people with disabilities.

When you get your first car there is a sense of freedom that is almost indescribable. This new technology for the blind, when perfected, will give this feeling to millions for the first time in their lives.

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