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Virginia Tech tries out car for the blind

Posted On Wed, February 9, 2011

Being able to drive is something blind people can only dream about. But thanks to researchers from Virginia Tech, their dreams may one day be a reality.

According to the Collegiate Times, beginning in 2006, Virginia Tech researchers began taking up the task of building a car for blind drivers. Using the the university's robotics and mechanisms laboratory in 2009, the researchers developed communication systems so sight-impaired drivers could communicate with a car through voice commands.

But recently, the paper says the research team has taken their protype further, retrofitting a Ford Escape Hybrid with sensory cues that the blind driver can use to determine when they need to accelerate, decelerate, and when to avoid road obstacles. For instance, the car has a tablet covered with holes that shoot compressed air. By placing their hand over the holes, they can "see" road obstacles.

Sharing the roadways with a blind driver may not be in the near future, but the researchers' successful test would seem to indicate it may not be too far off. In the meantime, auto insurers will have many factors to take into account when, or if, they can afford to insure blind drivers. 

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