The National Federation of the Blind (NFB) announced in late January that for the first time a blind individual drove a street vehicle in public without assistance of a sighted person.
Mark Anthony Riccobono, a blind executive who directs technology, research and education programs for the NFB, was behind the wheel of a Ford Escape hybrid equipped with nonvisual technology; he successfully navigated 1.5 miles of the road course section of the track at the Daytona International Speedway.
The historic demonstration was part of pre-race activities leading up to the Rolex 24 At Daytona. Riccobono not only navigated the several turns of the road course but also avoided obstacles, some of which were stationary and some of which were thrown into his path at random from a van driving in front of him. He later passed the van without collision.
The Ford Escape was equipped with laser range-finding censors that conveyed information to a computer inside the vehicle, allowing it to create and constantly update a 3-D map of the road environment. The computer sent directions to vibrating gloves on the driver’s hands, indicating which way to steer, and to a vibrating strip on which Riccobono was seated, indicating when to speed up, slow down or stop.
The purpose of the NFB Blind Driver Challenge is to stimulate the development of nonvisual interface technology. The Virginia Tech/TORC NFB BDC team, under the direction of Dr. Dennis Hong, director of the Robotics and Mechanisms Laboratory at Virginia Tech., is the only team that has accepted the challenge. The team uses the ByWire XGV™ developed by TORC technologies as the research platform for the development and testing of the nonvisual interface technologies that allow a blind person to drive.