Here's an article from the Daytona Beach News journal!
Technology helps blind driver lead lap - Racing
a.. Sunday, January 30, 2011
No driver racing in the Rolex 24 At Daytona could have elicited louder
screams from one group of fans than Mark Riccobono.
Unknown to thousands of race fans pouring into the Speedway on Saturday
morning, Riccobono became a hero to 400 members of the National Federation
of the Blind. They were there from all over the country for one reason
only -- to witness Riccobono become the first blind driver to take the wheel
in a solo trip on the track.
Several federation members compared his demonstration to the first United
States space flight in 1961.
"He's our Alan Shepard," said GaryWunder, editor of the Braille Monitor, the
federation magazine. "We've been looking forward to this for a long time."
For the blind, driving a car represents freedom and independence, things
other drivers often take for granted.
The federation challenged the nation's universities to take the challenge of
developing non-visual technology that would allow a blind person to drive
independently. One team accepted, a group of students at Virginia Tech,
working under the direction of Dennis Hong, director of the Robotics and
Mechanisms Laboratory. The equipment was placed in a Ford Escape Hybrid.
Riccobono directs technology, research and education for the Federation's
Jernigan Institute in Baltimore.
To get behind the wheel, he put on gloves that send vibrating signals along
his fingers to tell him when to turn and sat on a cushion that vibrated
along his legs to tell him when to brake or accelerate. He drove the inside
horseshoe on the track and in a tactical demonstration, dodged several boxes
thrown in front of his vehicle and passed a van.
The long-term implications of the technology were simply mind-boggling for
many cheering in the bleachers.
"This means a lot more to us than just the driving," Wunder said. "If we can
get all the information that's necessary to drive, what other things will we
be able to do?"
"It's incredible," said Randy Phifer, of Overland Park, Kansas, a federation
member listening to the play-by-play over the infield speakers. "I told my
fellow parishioners at home that I'd be back to pick them up," Phifer joked.
For college student Mika Baugh of Indiana, it was "pretty neat."
Owning and driving her own car would mean she "wouldn't have to wait for the
bus in the freezing cold.
"You can't even imagine what blind and sighted people will be able to do
with this technology someday," she said.
Sabrina Deaton, president of the Daytona Beach chapter of the federation,
lost her ability to drive almost 11 years ago, a victim of macular
Driving was "one of the most difficult things to give up," she said. "It was
giving up my independence."
The ability to drive opens up opportunities for education and employment,
she said. "And, just to be able to hop into the car and take a Sunday
If the research pace continues, Riccobono said the technology could be
available for general use in just five years. Federation officials said they
couldn't estimate how much the technology would cost.
Riccobono said other challenges remain, especially convincing sighted
drivers that it would be safe to share the road with blind drivers.
Copyright C 2011 The Daytona Beach News-Journal
Sherri Brun, NFBF Secretary and NewslineR Coordinator
Vice-president NFB Greater Orlando Chapter
Laughter is the best medicine, so look around, find a dose and
take it to heart.
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