Ford Teaches the Blind to Drive Stick

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Ford has been running tests wtih visually impaired drivers to ascertain the best way forward for drivers with disabilities.

Ford has made huge strides all over the world in terms of sales and production, and now the American automaker has something else to be proud of. Ford of Europe recently did some testing at their test track in Cologne, Germany. They had 30 blind and visually impaired drivers get behind the wheels of some of their cars and monitored their reactions and feelings towards speed, commands and general feel of their vehicle. Each driver had a sighted driving instructor, teaching them the intricacies of driving with a manual transmission.

With all the sophisticated sensors and cameras coming out nowadays, it's becoming increasingly likely that one day the blind or severely visually impaired will eventually be able to drive. "Driving it was not a big problem for me. Operating clutch and gearshift was easier than I expected," said driver Katrin Berus of Kleve, Germany. Ford found the exercise very empowering for the drivers and some of the results were pretty impressive. One of the drivers took his Ford Fiesta to 74mph and the results also showed that all the drivers in the experiment quickly mastered stick shift using only feel and sound.

Earlier this year, a blind driver made a lap of Daytona International Speedway using tactile prompts that responded to visual data provided by in-car technology. Some difficulties still remain for blind drivers, such as the high cost of the aforementioned technology and how someone with a severe visual impairment could actually handle all the intricacies of day to day driving. Dr. Wolfgang Schneider, Ford of Europe's VP of legal, governmental and environmental affairs stated: "In traffic situations, people with visual impairments orient themselves using sounds, so it's easy for them to misjudge size and speed of cars."

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He optimistically continued: "We want to help resolve such problems by encouraging greater participation in traffic that can leave us all more enlightened and confident." Though no one is certain of the exact direction transport for visually impaired drivers will go, with all the successes of autonomous cars and newer and cheaper technology, it's safe to say the future is looking bright.

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