Soon to be fact, if researchers at Virginia Tech are to be believed. A group of undergraduates working with Dennis Hong at Virginia Tech’s Robotics and Mechanisms Laboratory are making a car that can be driven by the blind and already have a working prototype in place. This project was initiated by the National Federation for the Blind.
This car is an all-terrain buggy that uses a laser rangefinder to alert the driver to objects in the path ahead. There are a number of ways the driver is given input while driving. To alert the driver to obstacles, a vest inside the driver’s harness is set to vibrate and a specialized system releases gusts of air near the driver's hands. The vibrations from the vest also help the driver determine a safe speed for driving. In addition, instructions are given to the driver via a pair of headphones.
The first thoughts that come to mind are the potential legal roadblocks to widespread use of a vehicle like this. Also, there will be countless social barriers. Road safety is and will always remain the main criterion: a car made for use by a blind driver must be built such that it can quickly and efficiently alert the driver to any unforeseen circumstance that may arise while driving. Last but not the least, a car like this will have to be made into an economically viable option. It is only if these challenges are met that we will be able to give the gift of independence and mobility to thousands in the US.