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Blind person to drive at Daytona

Virginia Tech and the National Federation of the Blind are preparing to unveil a prototype vehicle equipped with technology to let blind people drive on their own.

A blind person will soon be driving at Daytona.

No, I didn't begin my Independence Day celebrations a week ago. Please, bear with me a little. We'll get to Daytona shortly.

You see, the Associated Press has offered the information that the National Federation of the Blind and Virginia Tech University have come together to develop technology that will allow blind people to get behind the wheel of a car and go wherever they like.

2011 should see the debut of a prototype vehicle equipped with "nonvisual interfaces." This technology transmits information to blind drivers about everything surrounding their whereabouts.

The prototype will be a modified Ford Escape. CC ResedaBear/Flickr

The design has, at its roots, Virginia Tech's contribution to the DARPA Grand Challenge of 2007, in which the university took third place for its creation of a driverless vehicle that could sense the nature of traffic and objects all around.

Once the NFB came together with Virginia Tech, the first attempt to create a car for the blind featured a vibrating vest that told the driver how to react to existing traffic conditions.

The prototype is to be unveiled at Daytona International Speedway in January 2011. It will be a modified Ford Escape that uses technology involving vibrations and compressed air, each of which physically translates and transmits information about road and traffic conditions. The lucky blind driver who will pilot the prototype has not yet been chosen. Yet one can only imagine what a magical sensation he or she will enjoy.

The project is not merely trying to surmount the technological difficulties that surround the concept of a blind person driving a car on the open road.

As Dr. Marc Mauer, president of the NFB, told the AP: "We're moving away from the theory that blindness ends the capacity of human beings to make contributions to society."