A blind driver will be behind the wheel of a Ford Escape hybrid, equipped with nonvisual technology allowing a blind person to drive it independently.
The National Federation of the Blind (NFB) announced that Mark Anthony Riccobono, a blind executive who directs technology, research, and education programs for the organization, will be the first blind individual to drive a street vehicle in public, as part of a demonstration scheduled during pre-race activities leading up to the Rolex 24 at the Daytona International Speedway on January 29, according to an NFB statement
Riccobono said: "I have been blind since the age of five, so I never got to try for a driver's license or drive a car without another person telling me which way to steer. I am looking forward to getting behind the wheel and demonstrating to the world that being blind does not prevent me from engaging in any activity I choose as long as I am able to get the information I need."
Dr. Marc Maurer, President of the National Federation of the Blind, said: "The sight of a blind individual driving a vehicle without assistance from a sighted person will shake the foundation of public misconceptions about blindness and blind people by showing that even tasks that are thought to require vision are possible if a blind person has access to information in a nonvisual way. Vision is not a requirement for success."
Riccobono was the first director of the Wisconsin Center for the Blind and Visually Impaired, a state agency that serves Wisconsin's blind children. Since coming to the headquarters of the National Federation of the Blind in 2003, he has spearheaded many initiatives, including educational programs designed to engage blind youth in the fields of science, technology, engineering, and mathematics. He currently serves as executive director of the NFB Jernigan Institute.
The NFB Blind Driver Challenge is a research project of the National Federation of the Blind Jernigan Institute. The 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.