Cars Enable Blind to Drive - Tech Better Suited to Teens, Elderly?

July 9 2010


That was my reaction when I first read a headline announcing the prototype vehicle being developed by the National Federation of the Blind and Virginia Tech.

Collision avoidance sensor technology has been around a long time -- the military has been using it for decades, especially with autonomous (driverless, "autopilot") vehicles and aircraft. But busy city streets? In the summertime?

I envision neighborhoods with kids chasing balls out into the street, construction zones with barricades and weird lane configurations, drivers backing up to give extra clearance to a semi navigating a tight right turn.

Navigating these and other extremely ordinary driving situations seems well beyond the capability of a lone blind driver. Blind skiers enjoying the slopes at Breckenridge and other mountain resorts use sighted guides and even beep baseball games need sighted help.

To set the record straight, I celebrate the successes of the many blind people in business, technology and services. One of my most enjoyable experiences was navigating the noisy, narrow, crowded streets of Akihabara, Tokyo's famous electronics district with a blind-from-birth friend from Chicago who is a computer and telecom "genius." He's certainly a candidate for testing such a vehicle...on a test track. But I fear driving under the ordinary conditions I described above may be very far out into the future.

Sometimes technology adoption takes unexpected turns.  In the nearer term, I think that beginning drivers and the elderly whose reflexes are slowing down are ideal candidates for the nonvisual interface technology developed by the National Federation of the Blind and Virginia Tech.

What are YOUR thoughts?

Category: Open to Debate
Filed under
: Disability, Transportation