About the Blind Driver Challenge™™

What is the Blind Driver Challenge™™ | On the Web | Honor Roll Partners | Contact

What is the Blind Driver Challenge™™?

The National Federation of the Blind (NFB) Blind Driver Challenge™ is one of the most innovative and far-reaching research initiatives of the NFB Jernigan Institute.  It is our initiative to develop nonvisual interface technology that conveys real-time information about the driving environment so that it will be possible for a blind person to safely and independently drive a car.  As we work to ensure that a blind person can access the information necessary to confidently press the accelerator of an automobile, we are accelerating the development of other nonvisual access technologies that will ensure that blind people will remain independent and competitive.
 
Since the launch of the NFB Blind Driver Challenge™ in 2004, the NFB has served as an innovative force for driving the discussion about how the blind can drive. A series of meetings were held with university robotics projects and a number of influential engineers. In 2008–2009, the NFB began working with Virginia Tech University to develop the first blind-drivable vehicle, which was piloted and used as a teaching tool with blind youth at the 2009 NFB Youth Slam at College Park, Maryland. For a more detailed history of the Blind Driver Challenge™ work prior to 2010, please read "Driving Independence and Innovation Through Imagination," an informative article that appeared in the December 2009 issue of the Braille Monitor. The 2009 project was followed up by a full-scale research project initiated by the NFB and carried out by Virginia Tech University to build, test, and equip a street legal vehicle with nonvisual interfaces that would allow a blind person to drive.

Milestones

 
The National Federation of the Blind’s Blind Driver Challenge™ received the 2010 Application of the Year Award at the National Instruments Graphical System Design Achievement Awards ceremony held during the NIWeek annual conference in Austin, Texas.  NIWeek, hosted by National Instruments, is the world’s leading graphical system design conference and exhibition, showcasing the latest developments in graphical system design, virtual instrumentation, and commercial technologies.  The Virginia Tech/TORC Blind Driver Challenge™ team project also received the Graphical System Design Achievement Award in the Robotics category.  For more information, watch the NIWeek presentation by Mark Riccobono, Executive Director of the NFB Jernigan Institute. 
 
Our NFB Blind Driver Challenge™ demonstration of the prototype nonvisual interface that makes it possible for a blind person to independently drive a car made history at 11:30 a.m. EST on January 29, 2011, preceding the Rolex 24 at the Daytona International Speedway.  Mark Riccobono became the first blind driver by driving 1.5 miles of the road course at Daytona in a demonstration that included avoiding static and dynamic obstacles, driving a number of turns and straight aways, and passing another vehicle. View the video of his historic drive at http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=cTHa_5Y5IA4
 
This historic demonstration of a blind person independently driving an automobile was a tremendous exhibition of the capacity of a blind person using innovative nonvisual access technology to perform a task most people thought impossible for a blind person.  The foundation of many misperceptions about blind people and blindness were shaken.  You can read a moving account of this demonstration and what it meant to the blind in the article entitled "Blind Driver: Ultimate Insult or Statement of Fact," from the March 2011 Braille Monitor
 
A number of demonstrations of the Blind Driver Challenge™ vehicle have been performed for the media, on the streets of Baltimore, and in Colorado.
 
In 2012, the NFB Blind Driver Challenge™ was featured at the Driverless Car Summit in Detroit, Michigan, and a quote from the blind driver, Mark Riccobono, was listed among the top ten automotive quotes of 2012.
 
In 2013, the NFB Blind Driver Challenge™ supported a blinded drag racer in his quest to get behind the wheel despite his blindness. Dan Parker’s Quest for the Salt featured a custom-built motorcycle (designed and built by Dan) equipped with a nonvisual guidance system. With the support of the NFB Blind Driver Challenge™ initiative, Dan was the first blind driver to independently navigate the salt flats during Bonneville Speed Week.

On March 15, 2014, Dan Parker drove his motorcycle on the runway as part of the Thunder in the Valley Air Show in Columbus, Georgia. Dan Parker’s work with the NFB Blind Driver Challenge initiative will continue with future rides on his motorcycle.

Ongoing Blind Driver Challenge ™ Initiative

 
The NFB is committed to pursuing innovative nonvisual interfaces that might be used to empower blind people with the information necessary to drive. The NFB also believes that investigation of these technologies will have powerful spin off benefits in education and potentially in society at large. Please contact the NFB Jernigan Institute by e-mail at jerniganinstitute@nfb.org to bring new ideas or technologies to be considered. If you are interested in funding any research and development work in this area, please let us know. As discussions about the future of driving evolve, we intend for the blind to continue to make progress toward being included in the class of drivers. Even vehicles that drive themselves will have to have interfaces accessible to the blind in order to be effectively utilized by the blind. Therefore, the NFB Blind Driver Challenge™ aims to keep blind drivers in the thought process of the best and brightest vehicle innovators so that some day the blind will drive with everyone else.

Blind Driver Challenge™™ On the Web

For all the latest, up-to-the-minute news on the Blind Driver Challenge™™, become a fan on Facebook, follow the NFB's Twitter account (nfb_voice), follow the #NFBBDC hashtag, or visit us on YouTube.  

Blind Driver Challenge™™ Honor Roll

The honor roll has been established to acknowledge universities, corporations, or other institutions actively working to tackle the challenge and contribute to the knowledge base.

Blind Driver Challenge™™ Partners

Partners of the Blind Driver Challenge™™ are organizations who contribute time, energy, and resources to the endeavor to build nonvisual interface technologies that will empower blind people to drive a car independently. Without their generous support, this groundbreaking initiative would not be possible.

Thank You to our Partners:

Contact

To get involved with the NFB Blind Driver Challenge™™ initiative, please contact Mark Riccobono, President, National Federation of the Blind, at (410) 659-9314 or email officeofthepresident@nfb.org.