Blind get behind the wheel : Auto drive cars finally here

Posted on February 1st, 2011

Herbie just went bananas. The car that can actually drive itself is finally here. The National Federation of the Blind (NFB), the oldest and largest organization of blind people in the nation, announced today that for the first time a blind individual has driven a street vehicle in public without the assistance of a sighted person.

Mark Anthony Riccobono, a blind executive who directs technology, research, and education programs for the organization, was behind the wheel of a Ford Escape hybrid equipped with nonvisual technology and successfully navigated 1.5 miles of the road course section of the famed track at the Daytona International Speedway.

The historic demonstration was part of pre-race activities leading up to the Rolex 24 At Daytona this morning. Mr. Riccobono not only successfully 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. Later he successfully 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 three-dimensional 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 he was seated, indicating when to speed up, slow down, or stop.

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