Ford proves blind can drive a stick Article
let 30 blind and visually impaired drivers get behind the wheel at Ford’s test track in Cologne, Germany to give blind people a better understanding of automobiles and examine how the visually impaired interact with cars.
The test drives put drivers in control of all vehicle inputs as they responded to directions from a sighted driving instructor. The fastest driver got a Ford Fiesta up to 74 mph, and Ford reported that all drivers quickly mastered the fine art of a stick shift using feel and sound.
“Driving it was not a big problem for me,” said driver Katrin Berus of Kleve, Germany. “Operating clutch and gearshift was easier than I expected.”
Teaching the blind to drive is an increasingly realistic goal as cameras and sensors become sophisticated and cheap enough that they might one day substitute for sight. We’re already seen an autonomous Audi TT reach the summit of Pikes Peak, and a blind driver took a lap of Daytona International Speedway. He guided the car using tactile prompts that responded to visual data provided by in-car technology.
Though last week’s test drivers in Cologne relied on directions from professional instructors and not sensors, Ford still saw the event empowering blind and visually impaired drivers. In addition to letting them get behind the wheel, engineers also showed them how cars crumple during a crash and let them explore vehicles through touch and feel to better understand cars’ shape and size.
“In traffic situations, people with visual impairments orient themselves using sounds, so it’s easy for them to misjudge size and speed of cars,” said Dr. Wolfgang Schneider, Ford of Europe’s VP of legal, governmental and environmental affairs. “We want to help resolve such problems by encouraging greater participation in traffic that can leave us all more enlightened and confident.”
Schneider believes the blind could be driving cars within 15 to 20 years. For that reason, the event also served as a focus group and sales pitch in addition to giving blind people confidence in cars. For instance, blind drivers reported they preferred the feel of a round car versus an angular one. Ford’s engineers got to see how blind people interacted with in-vehicle controls, and the drivers better understood how to interact with cars — for now as pedestrians and passengers.
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