Tuesday, April 16, 2013

Technology: Blind Drivers in the Future?

Technology has made incredible advancements in improving a driver's experience behind the wheel. GPS systems, voice-activated directions, Google map displays, and back-end and side sensors that warn of pending collisions or accidents and brake appropriately are just a few of the recent innovations by car makers that make driving easier. But, now there's talk about someday allowing totally blind people to drive.

How far will it -- or should it -- take us? There are currently cars that can do simple things like parallel park themselves, but soon there may be automobiles capable of driving themselves, based on GPS, laser, radar and three-dimensional data. Cars that can do smaller functions, such as control a car in traffic jams, keep you inside lane markings or auto-park, are already on the road or about to come to market courtesy of Toyota, Mercedes, BMW and others. Recently, Google has had success getting laws passed in Florida, California and Nevada allowing the the testing of automated cars, with no drivers in them. But, these have been limited to controlled situations, and constantly overseen by engineers and technicians.

While advancing technology is marvelous, there are many times when a sighted driver needs to take control during an 'unplanned episode', like swerving to avoid an animal or another automobile. Would a sightless person sitting in a moving car in traffic be an insurance and liability nightmare? A blind person, trusting his or her car to be able to respond to a road hazard or pending collision while they are sitting there helpless to assist, could prove to be disastrous -- or even deadly. What if it involved the injury or death to a pedestrian, because the computer didn't recognize the danger and the driver couldn't see it? The result would be undoubtedly be a huge lawsuit and maybe even criminal charges. Who would be at fault, the blind person sitting behind the wheel, who trusted the technology, or the car manufacturer?

Currently, there are more than 15,000 visually-impaired people allowed to drive in the U.S. using a special lens system called "bioptic driving". The car is equipped with a main lens for a wide road view, and a telescopic attachment for close-up details such as reading street signs.

While visual aids for visually-impaired drivers is one thing, having a blind person behind the wheel of a car, with all that can go wrong on the roads and highways, is a potential disaster. Computers and technology is amazing, but as everyone knows, they can crash or freeze up without warning. What happens when the blind person needs to take over manually after the system goes down while heading down a busy highway at 60 or 70 mph? It's a scary thought, but that technology is not far away.

Source: BBC.co.uk