A car for blind people


(Image by Ford APA (cc:by-nc))

This story was originally reported by PRI's The Takeaway. For more, listen to the audio above.

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The National Federation of the Blind (NFB) and Virginia Tech are teaming up to create a car designed to be driven by blind people. Instead of creating a fully autonomous machine, the creators put total control over the car's movements in the driver's hands.

To give blind people control, researchers are developing innovative, non-visual interfaces that provide drivers with information about the road ahead. The car may come with gloves that provide tactile information about the road's twists and turns. TG Daily reports that cars may include "a vibrating vest that gives feedback on speed, a click counter steering wheel with audio cues and spoken commands for feedback on the car's direction."

"This is not the car telling the blind person to turn right, this is providing the blind person information -- information that people generally get through their eyes, but through a different method," Mark Riccobono, executive director of the National Federation of The Blind Jernigan Institute, told PRI's The Takeaway. Riccobono believes the technology created for the car could help classrooms for blind children and blind people more generally.

"It's very much like our going to the moon," according to Riccobono. The 1969 moon landing facilitated technological breakthroughs, but it also created a change in the mindset of the American people. It proved that humans were capable of achieving that goal. Riccobono hopes that when people see a blind person driving a car, it will change what people think about the capabilities of blind people, too.

"Most people would say 'A blind person driving a car, never.' They don't believe they have the capacity," according to Riccobono. He hopes the new car will change their minds.

You can watch a video of an early prototype of the car below:

"The Takeaway" is a national morning news program, delivering the news and analysis you need to catch up, start your day, and prepare for what's ahead. The show is a co-production of WNYC and PRI, in editorial collaboration with the BBC, The New York Times Radio, and WGBH. More at thetakeaway.org