Contact Us
University of California Henry Samueli School of Engineering and Applied Science Engineering IV XX-XXX
RoMeLa | Blind Driver Challenge
page-template,page-template-full_width,page-template-full_width-php,page,page-id-20167,ajax_fade,page_not_loaded,,vertical_menu_enabled,content_with_no_min_height,select-theme-ver-1.0,wpb-js-composer js-comp-ver-4.2.3,vc_responsive

Blind Driver Challenge

Blind Driver Challenge

The Blind Driver Challenge was created in response to an initiative by the National Federation of the Blind Jernigan Institute to create a vehicle that a blind person could independently operate. Our team of twelve seniors makes every effort to design, build, test, and implement numerous non-visual driver interfaces onto a vehicle platform that would achieve this goal. Throughout the design process, the team recognizes the philosophy of the National Federation of the Blind Jernigan Institute to “revolutionize attitudes about blindness and promote independence”. Our team hopes to create a vehicle that can increase the independence of the blind as well as work to break society’s stereotypes and create a path of technology to promote the capabilities of the blind.


Following the completion of last year’s design, multiple demonstrations occurred in May of 2009. Two members of the National Federation of the Blind Jernigan Institute, Wes Majerus and Mark Riccobono came to Virginia Tech and were the first completely blind from birth drivers of the Virginia Tech Blind Driver Challenge vehicle. Both of the drivers successfully used the Blind Driver Challenge system to navigate their way through a closed course defined by traffic cones. The Virginia Tech Blind Driver Challenge Team participated in the National Federation of the Blind Youth Slam which is a bi-annual weeklong program over the summer where 200 blind or low vision high school students come to a university and participate in a chosen track based on engineering, science, technology, and math. The purpose of the Youth Slam is to encourage and inspire blind youth to pursue technical careers that are often falsely believed to be impossible for the blind. over twenty students and mentors participated in the Blind Driver Track at the Youth Slam and got the chance to get behind the wheel of the Blind Driver Challenge vehicle. This was the best experience of the entire week because the students and mentors were truly appreciative and excited to drive either for their first time, or for the first time in many years. Visit the NFB website for more details at

Goals and Objectives

A top priority for this year’s BDC Team is to increase the robustness of the current system to maximize driver safety. Thus, the team is working to improve the abilities of the system’s three main hardware components—the sensors, the audio and steering angle interfaces, and the tactile vest. Furthermore, the software component of the system must be developed to process data collected from the sensors into a more useful format that can be conveyed via the interface systems. The team plans to alter the click wheel to make it more robust, or to design a new way to communicate steering angle to the driver and reduce subjectivity within our system. Two such systems under consideration include the Drive Grip and the Refreshable Tactile Mapping System, each of which is discussed in further detail in their respective sections. The final deliverable for this semester is to have a blind person drive through a defined course of traffic cones on a flat, level road with the improved system.


The long-term goal for the BDC Team would be to implement the BDC system onto a new Ford Escape Hybrid vehicle designed by TORC Technologies. The team would create the vehicle so that numerous blind drivers could drive from Baltimore, MD to Orlando, FL in May 2011 for the National Federation of the Blind’s National Convention with intermittent stops for fundraising events and media showings. This event will increase the awareness of blind drivers across the country and work to break stereotypes of the abilities of the blind.


Sensors: Hokuyo UTM-30LX

Onboard Computer: National Instruments CompactRIO

Software: Labview


  • “News Story | Virginia Tech News | Virginia Tech.” Virginia Tech News | Virginia Tech. Web. <>.

  • “Virginia Tech students engineer vehicle that enables blind drivers to take the wheel | Virginia Tech.” Virginia Tech | Invent the Future. Web. <>.

  • “Va. Tech Students Design a Vehicle for Blind Drivers, Who Take a Test Spin –” – nation, world, technology and Washington area news and headlines. Web. <>.

  • “Students Developing A Car For The Blind – The Early Show – CBS News.” Breaking News Headlines: Business, Entertainment & World News – CBS News. Web. <;contentBody>.

  • “News: Blind Drivers Hit The Road : Video : Discovery Channel.” Discovery Channel : Science, History, Space, Tech, Sharks, News. Web. <>.
    “November 05, 2009 | Machine Design.” Site Sponsor | Machine Design. Web. <>.

  • “Students Build a Car the Blind Can Drive | Autopia |” Wired News. Web. <>.
    “Helping Blind Drivers Take the Wheel – Wheels Blog –” Autos – Wheels Blog – Web. <>.

  • “YouTube – Straight Talk About Vision Loss, Episode 26.” YouTube – Broadcast Yourself. Web. <>.

  • “The Close : August 14, 2009.” BNN Video Player. Web. <>.