Release Date: 
Monday, August 16, 2010
Chris Danielsen
Director of Public Relations
National Federation of the Blind
(410) 659-9314, extension 2330
(410) 262-1281 (Cell)

Blind Driver Challenge Receives Top Graphical System Design Achievement Awards at NIWeek 2010

Baltimore, Maryland (August 16, 2010): The National Federation of the Blind’s Blind Driver Challenge—an innovative effort to create a nonvisual interface that empowers a blind person to operate an automobile—received the 2010 Application of the Year Award at the National Instruments Graphical System Design Achievement Awards ceremony held during the NIWeek annual conference in Austin, Texas.  In response to a challenge issued by the National Federation of the Blind (NFB), students and researchers at Virginia Tech—using National Instruments (NI) technology—developed a semi-autonomous vehicle that allows a blind driver to successfully navigate, control speed, and avoid collision while traversing a closed driving course.  NIWeek, hosted by National Instruments, is the world’s leading graphical system design conference and exhibition, showcasing the latest developments in graphical system design, virtual instrumentation, and commercial technologies.  The Virginia Tech/TORC Blind Driver Challenge team project also received the Graphical System Design Achievement Award in the Robotics category. 

Dr. Marc Maurer, President of the National Federation of the Blind, said: “The Blind Driver Challenge is a National Federation of the Blind initiative to cause the creation of a nonvisual driving interface for the blind.  We can build a car that the blind can drive independently and safely.  All we need is an interface that can capture information from the environment and provide it to the blind driver in nonvisual ways.  The innovations produced in the process of creating this blind-drivable vehicle will help the blind gain access to a great deal of information that has traditionally been presented only visually.  These innovations will also help the sighted find ways to learn more than they now know and operate machines with increased efficiency and safety.”

The paper describing the project was submitted by Dr. Dennis Hong, director of the Robotics and Mechanisms Laboratory (RoMeLa) at Virginia Tech’s College of Engineering, along with Greg Jannaman and Kimberly Wenger, two of the undergraduate students that worked under Dr. Hong's direction on the first-generation prototype of the nonvisual interface for a blind-drivable vehicle.  Dr. Hong and his students are currently working with the NFB on the second-generation prototype vehicle, which will integrate new and improved versions of the first-generation nonvisual interface technologies into a Ford Escape.  The vehicle is scheduled to be demonstrated to the public as part of the pre-race activities at the 2011 Rolex 24 At Daytona on January 29, 2011.

Dr. Hong said: “Three years ago we accepted the NFB Blind Driver Challenge to develop a vehicle that can be driven by a blind person.  I recognized this as an opportunity to motivate my students to challenge themselves to change the world.  Winning the National Instruments Graphical System Design Achievement Award is a tremendous validation of their hard work and creativity.”

Ray Almgren, vice president of marketing for core platforms at National Instruments, said: “The competition was very intense this year, with more than one hundred applications submitted by universities and technology companies from around the world who are using National Instruments hardware and software to create life-changing technologies.  The Blind Driver Challenge of the National Federation of the Blind is truly reflective of our commitment to provide students, engineers, and scientists with the technology and training to improve quality of life worldwide.” 
For more information about the NFB, please visit  For our digital news release about the Blind Driver Challenge and the planned debut of the BDC car at the Rolex 24, including audio and video clips for television and radio, please visit