Blind driving just around the next corner?

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Updated Dec 14, 2009

Today’s topic of note calls for a modification of the last line of novelist Ralph Ellison’s 1950s book Invisible Man, which concludes with the book’s protagonist a little closer to visibility perhaps than when he started setting down his story. In this case, a technology may well make the revised sentiment a possibility, which has all to do with bringing the activity of driving into the hands of a significant subset of individuals previously locked out of it. Who knows but that, in 2050, we may well have blind truck drivers, too.

Amid the flurry of news over the Virginia Tech Transportation Institute’s study on texting while driving, which followed a group of truck drivers over several weeks to study the crash risk of texting and which I wrote about here, other developments springing from the Institute may have been lost on some drivers. In particular, a former Overdrive managing editor sent in this link, to a story about technology that is enabling blind and other low-vision drivers to navigate a road course in a modified four-wheel buggy.

Designed by Virginia Tech’s Robotics and Mechanisms Laboratory, the buggy was the result of a National Federation of the Blind challenge to American universities to “design a vehicle that would allow a blind person to drive with the same freedom as would a sighted person.” The result featured a laser sensor mounted to the front of the vehicle that functioned in a fashion similar to sonar, mapping out the terrain in front of the vehicle and sending signals to a central computer to help enable drivers to respond to obstacles.

The folks involved in the demonstration, part of the NFB’s yearly Youth Camp in College Park, Md., certainly enjoyed it. Check out the pics on the Va. Tech’s site here.