A: This groundbreaking initiative of our NFB Jernigan Institute challenges universities, technology developers, and other interested innovators to establish NFB Blind Driver Challenge™ (BDC) teams in collaboration with the NFB to build interface technologies that will empower blind people to drive a car independently. The challenge is not the development of an autonomous car that drives a blind person around; the challenge is to develop a nonvisual interface for a car that can convey real-time information about driving conditions to the blind so that we can use our own capacity to think and react to interpret these data and maneuver a car safely.
A: We fully expect that the Blind Driver Challenge™ will ultimately result in the development of nonvisual interface technology for a vehicle that can be safely driven by blind people. We do not know when such an interface will be finalized. We are in the process of creating the second prototype of a vehicle outfitted with nonvisual interfaces, and many more such prototypes may have to be generated in order to produce interface technology that will permit a blind person to drive with the same degree of safety and reliability as a sighted person. Only at the point that such an interface is perfected will we ask society to consider granting driving privileges to the blind.
A: The purpose of the NFB Blind Driver Challenge™ is to stimulate the development of nonvisual interface technology. The goals of this initiative are:
A: Blind people are confronted by visual interfaces in everything from home appliances to office equipment. Our ability to live independently in our homes, to retain or obtain employment, and to live as fully participating members of society is increasingly threatened by technologies and devices that do not take nonvisual access into account. By closing the gap between nonvisual and visual technology, we will demonstrate that nonvisual technology is useful both for the blind and the sighted.
A: Since the opening of the NFB Jernigan Institute in 2004, the Blind Driver Challenge™ has served as a call to action for engineers and other bright minds to work on innovative technologies. Additionally, the challenge has helped to create a perceptual shift among technology developers about the type of technology the blind wish to have and how they intend to participate in society. A number of discussions have been held with engineers at prestigious universities, and dozens have expressed interest in the challenge. Our most significant milestone to date was the development of a Ford Escape equipped with innovative nonvisual interfaces. The first public demonstration was held on January 29, 2011, when a blind driver navigated 1.5 miles of the road course at the Daytona International Speedway.
The NFB continues to seek opportunities to engage with technology manufacturers, universities, and others regarding innovative interfaces that might empower the blind to join the class of drivers. Our focus is on opportunities to build nonvisual interfaces that can become part of the driving technologies of the future. Even if vehicles drive autonomously, blind people will need access to the controls and systems of the vehicle. We also believe there is much to be learned by stretching our imaginations and working on the challenge of building interfaces to provide blind people with the information they need to make driving decisions. Therefore, the NFB Blind Driver Challenge™ initiative is aimed at continuing discussions about blind driving and taking advantage of opportunities to build the knowledge base when they emerge.
A: The National Federation of the Blind remains committed to advocacy, education, training, and research on all fronts needed to secure the full participation of the blind in society on the basis of equality. It is not that the Federation is now focused on driving. Rather, the Blind Driver Challenge™ is one of the many projects we are undertaking to tackle the problems facing blind people today. In fact, the Blind Driver Challenge™ will draw attention to the other work of the Federation at the local, state, and national levels. Furthermore, the spirit of innovation demonstrated in the challenge will help encourage innovation in many other areas.
Transportation is a perennial issue faced by blind Americans. While the NFB will continue to work on improving public transportation and to advocate for the rights of blind pedestrians, the NFB Blind Driver Challenge™ represents an attempt to give the blind the same flexibility and opportunity to travel as their sighted peers. Furthermore, the nonvisual technologies developed in this effort will likely have applications in other areas, including the education, employment, and home and community life of blind Americans. For example, access to Braille is made difficult by the fact that electronic Braille display technology has not substantially changed since the 1980s. This technology is currently extremely expensive and therefore difficult or impossible for many blind people to obtain. By working to develop cost-effective nonvisual technology through the NFB Blind Driver Challenge™, we may well solve this problem and make Braille display technology available to more blind students and working-age blind Americans, as well as to people who simply enjoy reading. Nonvisual access technology can also be applied to producing tactile graphics for students and workers in disciplines like engineering, science, mathematics, architecture, and the like. Finally, nonvisual technology can be integrated into home appliances, consumer electronics, and office equipment so that they can be used by the blind. In short, the technologies developed in pursuit of this effort have a potentially broad range of applications that will improve the lives of all blind Americans, whether or not they ever choose to get behind the wheel.