Hokies give (tactile) sight to the blind so they can drive, no word on turning water into wine

Daytona International Speedway is synonymous with speed, auto racing, and . . . blind people? Virginia Tech's Robotics and Mechanisms Laboratory (RoMeLa), along with the National Federation of the Blind (NFB), recently debuted its sight-optional and street-legal SUV at the famed racetrack. Dr. Dennis Hong and his students first let blind folks drive a dune buggy without the help of a sighted copilot in 2009 -- as a first step to achieving the goal of a street-legal SUV for the sightless crowd. The SUV in question was designed for the NFB's Blind Driver Challenge, and is equipped with a drive-by-wire system -- also seen in the RoMeLa autonomous vehicle -- that was modified for use with RoMeLa's SpeedStrip and DriveGrip tactile interface technology. It works by using a laser rangefinder to map the surrounding area, relaying information for acceleration and braking to the driver by rumbling the SpeedStrip seat, and passing along turning info through vibrations in the DriveGrip gloves. The system was not developed solely for the purpose of getting blind drivers on the road, however, as Virginia Tech suggests that its technology could also be used in gaming applications. We're not quite ready to see blind drivers on actual roads just yet, but why shouldn't our sight-impaired friends get to enjoy Gran Turismo 5 with the rest of us? Video's after the break.