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BOB HIRSHON (host):
Driving without vision. I’m Bob Hirshon and this is Science Update.
A blind person driving a car may sound impossible. But at Virginia Tech, blind people are successfully steering a retrofitted dune buggy around a closed course. Dennis Hong is director of Virginia Tech’s Robotics and Mechanisms Laboratory, and the project’s faculty adviser. He says the car scans the road ahead with a laser, which bounces off the objects in its path.
DENNIS HONG (Virginia Polytechnic Institute):
And if you know the speed of the light, and you know the time, you can figure out the distance to the object.
A computer processes that information, and gives verbal directions. Other features include a clicking steering wheel for gauging turns, and a vest that vibrates as you pick up speed. Although the car still needs work, Hong says the legal and social hurdles to getting blind drivers on the open road would be far greater than the technological challenges. I’m Bob Hirshon for AAAS, the Science Society.