Release Date: 
Monday, August 2, 2010
Chris Danielsen
Director of Public Relations
National Federation of the Blind
(410) 659-9314, extension 2330
(410) 262-1281 (Cell)

Blind Driver Challenge of the National Federation of the Blind Featured at NIWeek 2010

Austin, Texas (August 2, 2010): The Blind Driver Challenge of the National Federation of the Blind (NFB) is one of the new technological innovations that will be featured at this year’s NIWeek, held August 3–5.  Hosted by National Instruments (NI), NIWeek is the world’s leading graphical system design conference and exhibition, showcasing the latest developments in graphical system design, virtual instrumentation, and commercial technologies.  Dr. Dennis Hong of Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University (Virginia Tech), College of Engineering will deliver a keynote presentation describing the work of the Virginia Tech/TORC team to create a nonvisual interface that will allow a blind person to drive an automobile independently. 

Dr. Marc Maurer, President of the National Federation of the Blind, said: “Building a nonvisual interface that will allow a blind person to operate an automobile independently and safely will expand the educational and employment opportunities of blind people.  We believe the technology that must be developed to make driving possible will offer opportunities for blind people to learn nonvisually in other areas; and in the process, we will learn more about how blind people perceive, gather, and manipulate information.  We believe that when this technology is fully developed, sighted people will also be able to operate their vehicles more safely and easily.  NIWeek provides us with an opportunity to highlight our Blind Driver Challenge and to encourage the developers of innovative technology to partner with us and make a car drivable by the blind a reality.” 

Dr. Dennis Hong, director of the Robotics and Mechanisms Laboratory at Virginia Tech, said: “NIWeek is an excellent opportunity to showcase our work with the Blind Driver Challenge of the National Federation of the Blind, and to encourage other universities to accept the challenge.  As a professor, I have found that the Blind Driver Challenge is also a very important educational opportunity.  Last year we had twelve very talented undergraduate students working on our first prototype vehicle.  Throughout the project we teach all the fundamental theories of science, mathematics, and engineering, but this challenge was a fantastic chance for the students to apply all the things they learned to a real-life project.  I often ask my students, ‘How many opportunities in your lifetime do you have a chance to change the world?’  This is really a project that most people thought was impossible, but we are making the impossible possible.”

Ray Almgren, vice president of marketing for core platforms at National Instruments, said: “National Instruments is committed to providing tools that inspire engineers and scientists to improve the world.  Empowering students with the technology and training to solve the grand challenges facing society is at the core of this commitment.  We are thrilled that the Virginia Tech/TORC team is using National Instruments technology, including NI LabVIEW software and CompactRIO hardware, to create an interface for a blind-drivable vehicle that will literally change everyday life for the millions of blind and visually impaired Americans who cannot currently get behind the wheel.”

The National Federation of the Blind Jernigan Institute—the only research and training facility on blindness operated by the blind—has challenged universities, technology developers, and other interested innovators to establish NFB Blind Driver Challenge (BDC) teams, in collaboration with the NFB, to build interface technologies that will empower blind people to drive a car independently.  The purpose of the NFB Blind Driver Challenge is to stimulate the development of nonvisual interface technology.  The Virginia Tech/TORC team, under the direction of Dr. Dennis Hong, Director of the Robotics and Mechanisms Laboratory at Virginia Tech., is the only team that has accepted the challenge.  The team is currently working with the National Federation of the Blind on the second-generation prototype vehicle to integrate new and improved versions of the first-generation nonvisual interface technologies into a Ford Escape. 

The NIWeek conference will be held August 3¬–5, at the Austin Convention Center in Austin, Texas. 

For more information about the National Federation of the Blind, 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