FEDERAL HIGHWAY ADMINISTRATION: PUBLIC ROADS
Last year Mark Riccobono made history at the Daytona International Speedway, driving a sport utility vehicle — without the use of his eyes. Riccobono, executive director of the Jernigan Institute of the National Federation of the Blind, is legally blind. But watching him drive solo around the track — as he did in front of thousands of people on January 29, 2011 — spectators might never have guessed had it not been announced over the loudspeaker.
The demonstration, one of the activities before the scheduled race, marked the first time a blind person drove a street vehicle in public without the assistance of a sighted person. With the help of nonvisual technology, Riccobono successfully navigated the 1.5 miles (2.4 kilometers) of the road course that branches off the multilane, oval racetrack. The road course veers off into the center of the oval and winds around as a curvy two-lane road before rejoining the main track. Riccobono managed the turns, avoided moving and stationary obstacles, and passed a van without collision.
Range-finding laser censors affixed to the vehicle sent information to an onboard computer that created and updated a three-dimensional map of the road environment. Cued by electronic signals triggered by the computer, vibrating gloves and a vibrating strip on the car seat sent directional signals to Riccobono. The signals informed him which way to steer and when to speed up or slow down and brake.
“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,” Riccobono said in a news announcement released by the National Federation of the Blind shortly after the event. “It … [shows] 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.”
Riccobono’s accomplishment is just one example of how technological innovation can benefit people with disabilities. At the Federal Highway Administration’s (FHWA) Turner-Fairbank Highway Research Center (TFHRC), researchers are working on a suite of new technologies that have the potential to improve the lives of people with disabilities, senior citizens, and other members of the traveling public.
For example, intelligent transportation systems (ITS), accessible data, wireless communications, mobile computing, robotics, artificial intelligence, and object detection navigation offer many possibilities for increasing mobility and independence. Designing wayfinding, orientation, and guidance technologies into personal vehicles, public transport systems, ticketing and travel information mechanisms, terminals, intersections, and pedestrian infrastructure can enhance the experience of traveling for everyone — including those with special needs.
About The Federal Highway Administration (FHWA)
“The Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) is an agency within the U.S. Department of Transportation that supports State and local governments in the design, construction, and maintenance of the Nation’s highway system (Federal Aid Highway Program) and various federally and tribal owned lands (Federal Lands Highway Program). Through financial and technical assistance to State and local governments, the Federal Highway Administration is responsible for ensuring that America’s roads and highways continue to be among the safest and most technologically sound in the world.”