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Transportation Technology

Prototype Vehicle For the Blind 238

Posted by timothy
from the this-needs-a-playstation-analog-too dept.
An anonymous reader writes "A student team from Virginia Tech Robotics and Mechanisms Laboratory have created a vehicle which allows the blind to drive. The vehicle uses a laser range finder to determine distances and alerts the driver through voice commands and vibration. Tomorrow [Friday] morning, the vehicle will have its first public test drive at the University of Maryland. At last, Braille on drive-up ATMs may finally be vindicated."
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Prototype Vehicle For the Blind

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  • by Anonymous Coward on Thursday July 30, 2009 @10:46PM (#28891811)

    I didn't see this one coming.

    • but (Score:5, Funny)

      by RuBLed (995686) on Thursday July 30, 2009 @11:24PM (#28892077)
      you can feel it from a mile away.
      • Finally, Stevie Wonder will be able to impress Eddie Murphy.

    • Re: (Score:2, Funny)

      by ls671 (1122017) *

      > Braille on drive-up ATMs may finally be vindicated.

      The above had me laughing quite a bit... ;-)

      • by cayenne8 (626475)
        "> Braille on drive-up ATMs may finally be vindicated.

        The above had me laughing quite a bit... ;-)"

        Yeah, but reading STOP signs will still be dangerous, and painful.....

      • by mcgrew (92797)

        Believe it or not, St. John's Hospital here in Springfield where I had a couple of surgeries has a parking garage and the elevators in the parking garage are marked in braille!

        But what I found even more hilarious is the elevators in the hospital itself aren't marked in Braille!

    • Ford Did. [fordvehicles.com]

      I wonder if the test vehicle is a Mustang...

    • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

      by GarryFre (886347)
      A dead battery and suddenly all is "Dark"! I liked that vindicated braille comment too. Considering the dubious quality of some folk's driving it could be a future historical irony for them to find that blind drivers in these cars are safer drivers than sighted drivers.
    • And what's wrong with a driving JCB for this purpose?

    • No wonder Americans are so fat!

  • What, what? (Score:5, Funny)

    by flydpnkrtn (114575) on Thursday July 30, 2009 @10:47PM (#28891827)
    Had to dust off the ol' "whatcouldpossiblygowrong" tag for this one...
  • Hmm... (Score:4, Interesting)

    by Anonymous Coward on Thursday July 30, 2009 @10:48PM (#28891831)
    Will be interesting to see how they vehicle interfaces with the traffic lights system... What could possibly go wrong?
    • Re:Hmm... (Score:5, Insightful)

      by istartedi (132515) on Friday July 31, 2009 @12:09AM (#28892341) Journal

      I think that'd be the easy part. A camera with Image processing for lane alignment and the same image every time. The lane alignment was actually my senior thesis--in 1993. It was just software, and I only tested it with one test set, so I have no idea how reliable it would have been. It was nowhere near real time either. I had no access to digital video. I had to rely on one test set, and I have no idea how they got the digitized frames. I imagine the reliability of the image processing has advanced; but I know the cost of digital capture devices has certainly come way down.

      At present, I tend to share the "what could possibly go wrong" sentiment; but at some point in the future we may find automated systems to be more reliable than humans. Before we put it on cars though, we should get it working on trains. In theory, that's an easier problem; but we still have problems with automated trains.

      I don't have data to back it up; but it seems like more train accidents are happening in manual mode now. In particular, an Amtrak accident last year (operator texting) and a recent San Francisco muni crash (operator had put train in manual). The last time I recall hearing about a train accident in automatic was on DC's metro system. It was during a snowstorm. IIRC, The operator was attempting to put the train in manual, but the system wouldn't allow it. [wikipedia.org]. It was out of service, and the operator was the only fatality. That was in 1996 though.

      • by mcgrew (92797)

        Can I use oe of these cars when I'm blind drunk? Sally [wikipedia.org] is supposed to be here before 2020.

    • Re:Hmm... (Score:5, Insightful)

      by Nethemas the Great (909900) on Friday July 31, 2009 @01:34AM (#28892713)

      I really do not understand the point. If one can make a feedback system capable of effectively and intelligently guiding a blind person it wouldn't be necessary... Just make the car capable of driving itself. A sighted person has a hard enough time interpreting and reacting to evolving situations around them. Responding to vibrations and voice alerts is most certainly slower.

      • by TheLink (130905)
        > Just make the car capable of driving itself.

        Or let the guide dog drive ;).
      • I think of this as just being an intermediate step to self-driving cars.

        A slightly different application of this would be to have the guidance system sending the data to a remote sighted operator, who was then driving the vehicle.

        Think of it as TTY, but with cars instead. :-)

      • My thoughts exactly. There are two reasons I can think of for doing this. One is that there are some grants available for assistive technology, so you can sell a (more or less) self-driving car for the blind for a lot more than a self-driving car for everyone and have the government pay a big chunk of your R&D before you start shipping the consumer model. The other is that it's still a legal requirement to have a driver in most places, so it's easier to get something that basically drives itself, but
  • Braille ATMs (Score:3, Insightful)

    by YrWrstNtmr (564987) on Thursday July 30, 2009 @10:50PM (#28891847)
    Always a good idea. You're in a taxi, and need some cash. Do you give the driver your card and the PIN and hope he doesn't rip you off? I think not.

    Blind drivers? Not such a good idea. Better to let the car (or some other human) drive it.
  • by GhostGuy (708750) on Thursday July 30, 2009 @10:50PM (#28891849)
    Even the blind can see that this is a bad idea. And they don't need voice commands and vibrations to do it.
    • by Alarindris (1253418) on Thursday July 30, 2009 @11:20PM (#28892057)

      Even the blind can see that this is a bad idea.

      No, they can't.

  • holy crap (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Sir_Lewk (967686) <sirlewkNO@SPAMgmail.com> on Thursday July 30, 2009 @10:51PM (#28891853)

    I hope they never allow these things on public roads with blind drivers. Handicapped accesibility is good and all but we shouldn't risk handicapping more people for it. Seriously, the driving is dangerous enough with a bunch of idiots who can see just fine.

    • Combining this with a computer override to prevent collisions would improve things.
      Although if it's good enough to keep a blind person from crashing it's probably almost good enough to drive itself.

      Are there any rules regarding driverless (or even passengerless vehicles?

    • You know this may be one of those cases where incomplete AI could have use. This system alloys the blind to do most of the hard computation and the AI simply analyzes the situation and only acts to prevent certain disaster. It assists the driver instead of taking over the driving.

    • by Renraku (518261)

      Just remember, when you get hit by a blind driver driving one of these, don't sue them.

      Sue the companies that came up with such wonderful ideas.

      Now, I have nothing against the handicapped, but driving is a primarily visual task. Putting someone behind the wheel just isn't a good idea, yet. I say yet, because there might come a day to where you can think of every possible circumstance a driver could get themselves into, and plan for it, but our cars would have to run on tracks and all at set speeds, shelte

      • Thing about buzzes alone is they are low-density signals.

        I'm going to take a frame from the recent movies and say "let's then come up with matching tech that augments the blind person! Daredevil Inc."

        I think this is a Plato's Cave app. When you 'see' things, you're processing a mental map of light bouncing off objects. Okay, someone can't see in the regular sense. Find some alternate scanning system with the same order of complexity and teach the new mental map. One company experimented with audio texture s

      • by hey! (33014)

        What about when I get hit by a *sighted* driver? Some of them aren't as capable as others. Am I not supposed to sue the less capable ones?

        Compare your reflexes and situational awareness to one of the great race drivers of all time, like Jackie Stewart. It is very likely that in a world where that degree of ability was average, you'd be considered a cripple. Yet it is a perfectly acceptable risk in this world for you to drive, even though your driving ability falls far short of the best. So is the test

  • by heretic108 (454817) on Thursday July 30, 2009 @10:52PM (#28891859)

    ...the driver had better concentrate on the guidance system and not be distracted by any scent of a woman.

  • Make it hold up to 8 people per car on a computerized rail system that could switch rails until you get to a destination. We don't have to wait for technology to catchup to get a system like this, we could build it in cities now.
  • by syousef (465911) on Thursday July 30, 2009 @10:57PM (#28891907) Journal

    ....in my neighbourhood. That and/or terminally stupid. What else would you call not stopping for a red light at a busy intersection?

  • by Anonymous Coward

    So now we can all stop asking why the drive up ATM's have braille and audio out! Now that's planning ahead!

    • by mcgrew (92797)

      You CAN walk up to a drive-up ATM. When I used to go to George Rank's (sadly now closed), there was a bank across the street (also now closed) with a drive-up ATM. I used to walk across the street a LOT to use that ATM.

  • by prichardson (603676) on Thursday July 30, 2009 @11:13PM (#28892013) Journal

    Q: What's the only thing more moronic than having braille on a drive-up ATM?

    A: Manufacturing two different keypads when one does just fine and incurring the costs to do so.

    In other words, having braille on all ATMs doesn't hurt anyone, even if it's an ATM that would be otherwise impractical for a visually impaired person.

    • by Itninja (937614)
      Hey you're right! Why do we even have stairs? Can't everything be a ramp? Why engineer both, when a simple ramp would work? "...and she's walking up the wheelchair ramp to heaven.."
      • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

        by 91degrees (207121)
        Because stairs are less practical for able bodied people than stairs. Can't say the same about braille ATMs.
        • Because stairs are less practical for able bodied people than stairs.

          Wrong. Stairs are more practical than stairs.

    • by brusk (135896)
      Also, what if a sighted person wanted to take a blind person to a drive-up ATM, with the blind person in the driver's-side rear seat? What we REALLY need are braille street signs.
  • Other applications (Score:3, Insightful)

    by arb phd slp (1144717) on Thursday July 30, 2009 @11:16PM (#28892033) Homepage Journal

    If it works for a go-kart it could work for a motorized wheelchair. Lots of people with cerebral palsy also have sensory impairments. The sensors and software have the potential to increase the independence of a lot of people.

  • Who is at fault if you get hit be one of the auto drive cars?

    Where going to sue the state, the people who made the car, the University of Maryland, Virginia Tech, the students, the people who installed this, the voice actor and any other person that let it happen.

  • by VaticDart (889055) on Thursday July 30, 2009 @11:18PM (#28892051)
    For some reason, as someone who gets around almost entirely by bicycle, this seems like an incredibly bad idea to me.
    • by hey! (33014)

      I disagree.

      This thing won't go into production if it is incapable of recognizing and avoiding a cyclist (as many meat drivers are).

      Also, if I have to claim a lane for safety purposes, it won't get pissed and cut me off.

  • Nothing new (Score:2, Funny)

    by Anonymous Coward

    SUVs have been around for years.

  • by FlyingSquidStudios (1031284) on Thursday July 30, 2009 @11:24PM (#28892083) Homepage
    People cite braille on drive-up ATMs as political correctness gone crazy or the ludicrousness of government regulation, but the real reason that there is braille on drive-up ATMs is that it's not cost-effective to make two sets of ATM machines, one with braille and one without, especially since the braille has absolutely no effect on the way the machine functions. A second, braille-free model would just be for cosmetic reasons.
    • by fabs64 (657132)

      You have to wonder at the people who seem to think that every ATM is a hand-crafted flower for its specific context right down to the keypad too

    • Re: (Score:2, Interesting)

      by Kenja (541830)
      Then explain why banks are required BY LAW, to replace perfectly good drive up ATMs with brail versions?
    • Mod parent up.

      Seriously, I can't believe that people are still citing it. I was coming to make that comment myself, but I'm glad to see someone else beat me to the punch.
    • Re: (Score:2, Informative)

      by SignOfZeta (907092)

      [...] ATM machines [...]

      I knew someone would do this. You bring up ATM machines, PIN numbers, and the HIV virus, and acronyms get no respect.

      • by N3Roaster (888781)

        I wonder if this would happen less if we started calling these things AT machines, PI numbers, and the HI virus. All of these sound cooler anyway.

        • Re: (Score:2, Funny)

          by SignOfZeta (907092)
          We already have a pi number, though. It's a little more than three.
          • Unless you're from Indiana.
          • by mcgrew (92797)

            Reminds me of an old Justin Wilson (The Cajun Cook) joke.

            A Cajun sends his son to college, and when the kid comes back for spring break, the old man says "Well, boy, what ya larn in dat college?"

            The son thinks a second and replies "PI r square".

            The old man says "what kind o' damned fool school I sen' ya to? Pie are ROUND, cornbread are square!"

      • Amen. I drink a Schüttel-Shake [wordpress.com] to that! ("schüttel(n)" is the German word for "shake").

    • by Mal-2 (675116) on Friday July 31, 2009 @12:01AM (#28892275) Homepage Journal

      People cite braille on drive-up ATMs as political correctness gone crazy or the ludicrousness of government regulation, but the real reason that there is braille on drive-up ATMs is that it's not cost-effective to make two sets of ATM machines, one with braille and one without, especially since the braille has absolutely no effect on the way the machine functions. A second, braille-free model would just be for cosmetic reasons.

      Beyond that, there is always the possibility of a car rolling up with a blind passenger in the BACK, who may wish to operate the ATM unassisted. It must be bad enough never getting to drive... though that seems to be another barrier falling.

      I have heard that Ray Charles liked to ride a motorcycle by following someone else and just listening to where they went and what noises their bike was making. (Needless to say, this requires a cooperative lead rider.) Then Mythbusters did the "blind drunk" driving test and found that a blind person can follow directions and drive passably. Maybe this is not so far-fetched. Still, if we can make a machine smart enough to instruct a person how to drive, why can't we just let the machine drive?

      Mal-2

      • I have heard that Ray Charles liked to ride a motorcycle by following someone else and just listening to where they went and what noises their bike was making. (Needless to say, this requires a cooperative lead rider.) Then Mythbusters did the "blind drunk" driving test and found that a blind person can follow directions and drive passably. Maybe this is not so far-fetched. Still, if we can make a machine smart enough to instruct a person how to drive, why can't we just let the machine drive?

        I think the regular driving is pretty straight forward. Handling unusual situations is the tricky part. Many emergency situations could be handled better by a machine driving, but some stuff (e.g. slowing down when a cop on the side of the road signals you to) is going to be very hard to get right for either a machine or a blind human.

      • by LurkerXXX (667952)

        "Then Mythbusters did the "blind drunk" driving test and found that a blind person can follow directions and drive passably. "

        Bah. Top Gear had a blind man drive a car around a racetrack by following directions 4 years earlier than that Mythbusters episode. He even beat a few sighted people's time who they've had on.

        http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=PbiYtg5geoo [youtube.com]

    • by Dan541 (1032000)

      I can't read braille but it does provide a little tactile feedback. Just like the bumps on J and F keys.

  • It is only fitting that the first blind driver vehicle is tested in the DC metro area. With the way people drive there, no one will notice.
  • and driving... haven't see good work like this since their soldier related Mustang commercials

    http://www.fordvehicles.com/the2010mustang/?id=/ [fordvehicles.com]

    Warning, it is broken into multiple episodes but overall it is well done. It also is a great kick to see this guy and other members of the community getting to drive one of these cars.

  • by Alex Belits (437) * on Friday July 31, 2009 @12:24AM (#28892411) Homepage

    Weren't they supposed to develop a gun for blind shooters first?

    • ~shrugs~ Not necessary. I have a completely blind friend who passed the conceal-carry shooting test and got his license. He taught me how to shoot. But I still have better aim. :P

      And yes, I know you were being funny, and yes, I did laugh. :D
  • Why not use the best kind of AI--people? Stick cameras and mikes all over the outside of the car, give it a speedy 5G connection and good GPS, and have someone sitting in a car simulator in India do the driving?
  • Don't knock it until it's been shown to not work. There's probably some UI that'll make it work some day.

    The first thing that comes to mind is a modified laser range finder (that can move the laser in two dimensions instead of one) and convert it into an overhead map of obstacles, reflectors, etc. Then, convert it to a tactile graphic [wikipedia.org] on the fly. Assuming the resolution of touch can be overcome (it's fairly bad), with enough training, a blind driver might be able to constantly feel a map of their surroundin

  • Next idea (Score:5, Funny)

    by marjancek (1215230) on Friday July 31, 2009 @02:18AM (#28892899)
    I think this is great. Now, I hope they create something women will be able to drive.
  • Why not just automate all cars? Then it wouldn't matter if you were blind or not. We have the means to do it, and the resources, just maybe not the MONEY ...

    Time driving would be cut in half, and while you were in transit you could spend your time doing other things besides cussing out someone cutting you off or that blind person driving

    • by Dan541 (1032000)

      We have the means to do it, and the resources,

      No we don't, the open road is very different to automating cars on a closed track.

  • by oljanx (1318801) on Friday July 31, 2009 @04:22AM (#28893411)
    We're really good at filtering and rapidly processing large amounts of visual information. Can six lanes of rush hour traffic on icy roads be communicated through a combination of sound and touch? I'd guess not, but I may be wrong.
    • by Dan541 (1032000)

      Can six lanes of rush hour traffic on icy roads be communicated through a combination of sound and touch? I'd guess not, but I may be wrong.

      Most drivers don't see that anyway, their all busy texting on their phones.

  • Theyre called taxis...
    • by mcgrew (92797)

      "Welcome to Johnnycab, where would you like to go?"

      "DRIVE! JUST DRIVE!"

      "I'm sorry, I don't recognize that destination."

  • by porter235 (413926) on Friday July 31, 2009 @08:03AM (#28894497)

    may be closer than they feel.

  • by mea37 (1201159) on Friday July 31, 2009 @10:16AM (#28895733)

    Ok, I'm blind. I use that term in the sense the NFB uses it (or at least did last time I heard) - non-correctable vision impairment that affects day-to-day life. It is also correct to say I'm legally blind, though not totally blind.

    And, I live in a part of the U.S. where inability to drive is a serious hinderance. (That doesn't narrow things down much.)

    But I have to say, I think this idea is... well... misguided. I agree with the end goal (better independent mobility for the blind), but the approach is all wrong. It may be that TFA isn't giving a full sense of how this works, and certainly even what they've described is an amazing technological acheivement; but the real problems of a blind driver are orders of magnitude more complex.

    Dealing with lane alginment, spotting intersections, parking challenges... those could be handled with an infrastructure investment to make "smart roads" that can talk to the car.

    How will the laser range-finder fair with bicycles? Kids running across the road? A wheel, matress, or other random piece of junk that fell off another vehicle? The unexpected?

    What happens when all of this active sensing equipment fails for some reason?

    By the time you invest enough to solve all of these problems, you could have the car drive itself. I don't see this as a useful "intermediate step" in that direction, as someone else suggested, because the human interface is a more complex challenge than the automated intelligence it replaces - which is why there have already been robots that can drive on a closed track.

    In truth, I think it's a sloppy American attitude to think that autonomous living is predicated on driving your own car. The fact that most Americans don't use public trnasportation, along with the resulting low quality of American public transportation (on average), makes the idea of a blind person using public transportation stand out in America as a disparity.

    In other words, I don't think we should try to shoehorn blind drivers into the American transportation infrastructure; I think we should build an infrastructure that supports everyone.

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