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Blind Man Drives Prius, With A Little Help From Google (Video)

 
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Steve Mahan got into a Toyota Prius hybrid, drove to the dry cleaner's, picked up some clothes he'd left to be cleaned, and drove home. The trip was about a mile and a half.

Steve Mahan is legally blind. He's lost 95 percent of his vision.

He did it, though, with a little help from Google.

The car he happened to be driving was one of several Google Self-Driving Priuses, outfitting with an array of cameras, sensors, and processing algorithms to ensure it can sense, interpret, and react to its environment in real time--driving as safely as any other driver.

And perhaps a lot more safely than the ones who are talking, texting, eating, or otherwise driving while distracted.

Giving mobility to the blind is just one of the many tantalizing promises of truly autonomous vehicles.

Google has been aggressively pursuing the technology, most recently getting approval from the state of Nevada on the circumstances in which autonomous cars can drive themselves on its roads and highways.

Blind driver Steve Mahan in Google's Self-Driving Toyota Prius, March 2012

Blind driver Steve Mahan in Google's Self-Driving Toyota Prius, March 2012

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That means, if you see a Prius with a red Nevada license plate, it may not have anyone in the driver's seat.

Because self-driving cars aren't yet legal in California--where Mahan lives--the trip shown in the video was actually planned beforehand, with a police officer riding shotgun and police cars ahead and behind.

The autonomous car work is an outgrowth of the DARPA Urban Challenge, a 2007 contest in which several universities built autonomous vehicles that competed to travel between a variety of locations along unknown roads amidst random traffic.

No word on whether the National Federation for the Blind--which fought successfully to get hybrids and electric cars to make noise whenever they run in electric-only mode--has a point of view on the blind driving those same cars.

Blind driver Steve Mahan in Google's Self-Driving Toyota Prius, March 2012

Blind driver Steve Mahan in Google's Self-Driving Toyota Prius, March 2012

Enlarge Photo

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Comments (3)
  1. That is really cool and I think they are just scratching the surface of technologies that can make cars safer and more efficient.
     
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  2. List of things I hope happens (None of which will)
    -Google cars get rushed into production and sold to blind people
    -Said cars achieve a perfect safety record
    -It becomes common place to yell "What are you, sighted?!" when someone almost drives into you.
     
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  3. Well that was pretty neat. But how does he control the car? How does the car know where to go and which parking stall to park in?

    Does it have to be pre-programmed by someone else, or can he just say "I want to go to Taco Palace"? And "please read the menu to me".
     
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