• Jan 31, 2011
Mark Riccobono's blind lap of Daytona – Click above for high-res image gallery

Another year, another Rolex 24 Hours at Daytona champion. Something interesting happened before the prototypes took to the track, though, when a Ford Escape Hybrid took on the 1.5-mile road course. The driver, Mark Anthony Riccobono, didn't break any speed records... but he did successfully maneuver the Escape without the help of a very crucial driving aid – vision.

Riccobono is blind, and with the help of non-visual technology, he completed the Daytona road course. Beyond simply making lefts and rights, Riccobono also had to avoid a variety of obstacles. Some were stationary while others were thrown randomly from the back of a van. Riccobono avoided them all, and then he passed the van before crossing the finish line.

The event marks the first time a blind person has driven a vehicle around a course without the aid of a sighted person. It was a major milestone for the Blind Driver Challenge, which aims to improve blind-interface technology. Check out the press release after the break.

[Source: National Federation of the Blind | Images: Terry Renna and John Raoux/AP]
Show full PR text
Blind Man Drives Car Independently

Avoids Dynamic Obstacles

DAYTONA BEACH, Fla., Jan. 29, 2011 /PRNewswire-USNewswire/ -- The National Federation of the Blind (NFB), the oldest and largest organization of blind people in the nation, announced today that for the first time a blind individual has driven a street vehicle in public without the assistance of a sighted person. Mark Anthony Riccobono, a blind executive who directs technology, research, and education programs for the organization, was behind the wheel of a Ford Escape hybrid equipped with nonvisual technology and successfully navigated 1.5 miles of the road course section of the famed track at the Daytona International Speedway.

The historic demonstration was part of pre-race activities leading up to the Rolex 24 At Daytona this morning. Mr. Riccobono not only successfully navigated the several turns of the road course but also avoided obstacles, some of which were stationary and some of which were thrown into his path at random from a van driving in front of him. Later he successfully passed the van without collision. The Ford Escape was equipped with laser range-finding censors that conveyed information to a computer inside the vehicle, allowing it to create and constantly update a three-dimensional map of the road environment. The computer sent directions to vibrating gloves on the driver's hands, indicating which way to steer, and to a vibrating strip on which he was seated, indicating when to speed up, slow down, or stop.

Mr. Riccobono said: "The NFB's leadership in the Blind Driver Challenge™ has taken something almost everyone believed was an impossible dream and turned it into reality. It was thrilling for me to be behind the wheel, but even more thrilling to hear the cheers from my blind brothers and sisters in the grandstands* -- today all of the members of the NFB helped drive us forward*. It is for them and for all blind Americans that the National Federation of the Blind undertook this project to show that blind people can do anything that our sighted friends and colleagues can do as long as we have access to information through nonvisual means. Today we have demonstrated that truth to the nation and the world."

Dr. Marc Maurer, President of the National Federation of the Blind, said: "Just as our colleague Mark Riccobono successfully surmounted many obstacles on the Daytona course today, blind people routinely surmount barriers by using alternative techniques and technologies. When there is not a solution available, we muster our resources and combine them with those of the partners who make common cause with us to produce the innovations necessary to create such a solution. That is how the NFB Blind Driver Challenge™ came to happen, and that is how we will make all of our dreams come true."

The NFB Blind Driver Challenge™ is a research project of the National Federation of the Blind Jernigan Institute -- the only research and training facility on blindness operated by the blind. The Jernigan Institute challenged 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 purpose of the NFB Blind Driver Challenge™ is to stimulate the development of nonvisual interface technology. The Virginia Tech/TORC NFB BDC team, under the direction of Dr. Dennis Hong, director of the Robotics and Mechanisms Laboratory at Virginia Tech., is the only team that has accepted the challenge. The team uses the ByWire XGV™ developed by TORC technologies as the research platform for the development and testing of the nonvisual interface technologies that allow a blind person to drive.

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    • 1 Second Ago
      • 3 Years Ago
      Way to go! I'm legally blind and have always wanted to drive--and there's not a blind person around who has not had a taste of driving--with a sighted person, of course. Someday the technology will be there. Meanwhile, more funds for public transit, please!
      • 3 Years Ago
      This is great. I can only imagine 10-20 years when we have some of the features on our passenger cars, or at least refine what we have now (IE Volvo fails)
        • 3 Years Ago
        How cool! I love it when technology comes together to give us the ability to do good, and improve someones life simultaneously. I know that the tech at Save Creatively works hard to bring us deals in a time of economic woe. I look forward to this tech being able to accomplish much for the blind in the future!
      • 3 Years Ago
      That is nothing new there are plenty of people in Fl. driving that seem to already be blind.
      • 3 Years Ago
      Tigmil I have question for you. Have you ever taken a ride with a (paraplegic and other disabled wights) to quote you? Well I have they have to pass the same test that everybody else takes. They are better drivers than the normal driver. I hate to use the term handicapped because they did not want to be treated way. When they are driving they are just like everybody else. Don't group the blind with them because the blind will have to wait 10 to 15 years before they have a chance to drive on the open road. Then we all will be on the road together. Now if that bothers you I have one suggestion stop driving or leave the country. What they did in this test was done at a slow pace there is no way they can use the current system to drive on the open road. If you know a person that is paraplegic that drives take a ride with them you might learn something.
      • 3 Years Ago
      • 3 Years Ago
      So we pour massive amounts of $$$ into enabling one blind person to drive one car... and lather rinse repeat, for many other blind drivers... when the money could be FAR more effectively spent in INCREASING and IMPROVING *PUBLIC TRANSIT* so that *all* disabled people can have better mobility!

      As anyone who has purchased software and hardware adaptive equipment knows, the price of such equipment is massive! JAWS for Windows comes in at around $700 a pop and it's just a basic interface enabling a blind person to navigate the Internet.

      Far better to build in technology that gives everyone a level playing field. Yes, blind persons can do everything (well... almost....) that a sighted person can do. All we need is that small extra step. Build it in at the manufacturing level (as Windows does, now) and we're good to go.

      I've been a member of the NFB, am blind, myself, and remember the days when all we HAD were reel-to-reel tape recorders, Braille slate and stylus, and Perkins Brailler. We've come a long way, Baby!


        • 3 Years Ago
        We sure have Swan, & the fact is we will continue to strive for not only better technology to help us exist in this sighted World ,but also hopefully one day reasonable cost's will come, so we all can afford the possible automobile technology, wouldn't that be something to dream for?..
        Yes Jaw's is expensive, but look @ the World it opened for us all. As you may, or not, realize many State's have Agency's for the Blind, also known some place's, as The Commission For the Blind, they have some variety's of technology equipment, gently used, that they offer free, to those who want to accept the challenge of becoming Computer literate . I was 59 & never touched a computer, they sent a person to my home & she trained me & provided a unit , with jaws / adaptive software, wow what a World it opened to me, I was so grateful & now help others to learn what is available out there if you just no where & whom to seek out. Contact your Blind agency's, your D.H.S. if your in CA. If like me your in Oregon State ,then contact The Commission For the Blind in Portland. Bottom Line contact someone who can provide Training & Equipment @ little to no cost to you ,most State's offer Rehab/Training, if your Visually impaired. Then of course you also no, you can always contact the National federation Of The Blind N.F.B. 50,000 strong, for any info & or help ..
        Lin Jaynes
        Oregon State Former N.F.B/ Board member
      • 3 Years Ago
      Sounds like a waste of money to me a very expensive stunt that I'm sure was rehearsed many times before going public, driving is a privelage not a right, they need to get most handicaped drivers off the road not make it seem that blind people are next to be driving our streets.
      • 3 Years Ago
      What an accomplishment. This blind man did what the majority of Florida residents cannot do, drive 1.5 miles without running into something.
      • 3 Years Ago
      This is nice but it looks like that this will take longer

      Sighted person - Eye get the image, brain analyze it = we see

      Blind - Sensor got it - computer analyze - command the vibration thin - he "see"

      So it got more steps. Although it is a start, in the future thing will be better. But I bet ppl will have A LOT prejudice toward them, and this is sad...
      • 3 Years Ago
      Do they still race production models in these endurance races? Or is it just these super hopped up prototypes? Instead of the road course, let's run them entirely on the oval. Bet it'd make a lot of difference running flat out for 24 hours.
      • 3 Years Ago
      I guess I should say congratulations on his driving blind, but don't pick me up for a ride. I hope it takes a long time to make blind peope drive.
        • 3 Years Ago
        Joanna I offer a different prospective & hope it doesn't take a long time for us to drive. From my personal encounters out there & as one who is being driven around by many different, so called good driver's ,who are sighted people, when i need to meet my need's to go to the Grocery, shopping, church, Business dealing's, etc etc. I often find the ride's to be very hazardous tome. From all the quick slamming of the brake's & horn blowing & screaming done, it's apparent lot's of folk's out there , [assume] they are the sighted one's? dont cope real well driving anyway.

        This technology is a long way off for us, & as one blogger mentioned , it will most likely be out of this generation's ability to purchase it anyway, however what a wonderful possibility for those to come, those who are Blind & young, Imagine your self being unable to be independent & having to seek out someone to help you @ there personal schedule, not yours, always having to adjust basic plan's ,just to meet your daily need's & so many forget & or dont stop to realize that like you, we also must get out daily, to meet our need's & live Life, Perhaps this future technology is just an attempt to level the playing field .
      • 3 Years Ago
      I may not see it in my day, but i certainly have faith in believing the blind driving could become a reality. so many other great discoveries have happened to aid the handicapped people,why not this?
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