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Driverless cars: Melbourne blind man forging new frontier for vision impaired

Brigid O’Connell, February 15, 2017 6:00PM Herald Sun

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BLIND people who are bus drivers; people with vision impairments* as couriers or Uber drivers?

Welcome to the brave new world of driverless cars, where all of this may be possible.

The Centre for Eye Research Australia is teaming up with Boroondara councillor Steve Hurd, who has been legally blind since birth, on a global fact-finding mission* on how to make the emerging technology of autonomous vehicles useful for the millions of blind people around the world. The team will also lobby government and the transport industry.

Driverless cars for the blind media_cameraSteve Hurd with guide dog Sandy. Picture: Alex Coppel

Mr Hurd, 56, was 10 when he sat with his three blind friends, just after the moon landing, and they started plotting* how to design a car they could one day use.

“It would need to know where it was going through a positioning* system,” Mr Hurd said.

“It would need sensors to know how far it was from other things, and how to read traffic signs.”

Mr Hurd has been made an honorary fellow* with the University of Melbourne for this project.

He hopes to travel to the US to meet with Tesla chief Elon Musk and Apple boss Tim Cook, whose companies both have plans for driverless cars.

Tesla CEO Elon Musk attends a panel discussion at the World Government Summit 2017 in Dubai's Madinat Jumeirah on February 13, 2017. / AFP PHOTO / STRINGER media_cameraTesla CEO Elon Musk. Picture: AFP

But first he will travel with CERA to Perth to test drive an autonomous* bus.

“It would be equivalent of the moon landing for us,” he said.

“It would give me the freedom and independence to do what I want, when I want. There are certain times of the day, or if it’s wet, that taxis just won’t come.

“It would improve people’s job prospects. Why not have a blind person as a deliveryman? It sound crazy, but it’s probably going to happen.”

Apple CEO Tim Cook looks on as he visits the production hall of shop fittings company Dula in Vreden, western Germany, Tuesday, Feb. 7, 2017. Dula produces tables for Apple stores around the world. (Bernd Thissen/dpa via AP) media_cameraApple CEO Tim Cook. Picture: AP

CERA managing director Professor Jonathan Crowston said Australia’s rapidly ageing population and increasing prevalence* of diabetes, meant that vision-loss was tipped to become one of the most common disabilities in the country.

“Access to mobility services for the vision-impaired will become an urgent priority to maintain quality of life and full community participation*,” Prof Crowston said.

CERA is already researching areas relevant to driverless vehicles, including developing a new test using a simulator* to check the impacts of eye disease, such as early age-related macular degeneration*, on driving.


impairments: weakened or damaged

mission: an important job

plotting: planning

positioning: showing where something is, such as GPS does

honorary fellow: an award by a university recognising great work

autonomous: having the freedom to act independently, as in a driverless car

prevalence: commonness

participation: joining in

simulator: imitates the real world

macular degeneration: a disease of the retina, which is part of the eye



Activity 1: Driverless Vehicles

In the story, Steve Hurd lists TWO things that a driverless vehicle would need so that a blind person could drive it.

Write them down.

What else do you think it would need?

List as many things a car would need for a blind driver that you can think of.

Draw a design of this car. Label your design with the special features.

Time: allow about 30 minutes to complete this task

Curriculum links: Design and Technologies

Critical and Creative Thinking

Extension: Better or worse?

Write a list of the pros (good things or advantages) of self-driving cars, then the cons (bad things or disadvantages) of self-driving cars.

Each point on your list should be in order of most important to least important.

Time: allow 20 minutes to complete this extension

Curriculum links: Design and Technologies , Critical and Creative Thinking

Activity 2: How do our eyes work?

Have you ever wondered how our eyes help us to see?

Visit these websites for information about how vision works.

Kid’s Health – Eyes: How Your Eyes Work

Children’s University of Manchester – How do we See?

Use the facts that you have found to design an information poster that will help younger students at you school to understand how our eyes work.

Time: allow about 30 minutes to complete this task

Curriculum links: Health and Physical Education , Science, Visual Communication and Design

Extension: Now that you know how we see, find out how we can taste, hear. smell and feel.

Create information posters about each of these senses and how they work

Time: allow 90 minutes to complete this task

Curriculum links: Health and Physical Education , Science , Visual Communication and Design

VCOP Activity

(Vocabulary, Connectives, Openers and Punctuation)

Activity: How good are your directions? (oral task)

Pair up and grab a blindfold. It’s time to find out what it’s like to have to rely on others if you too were vision impaired. Take turns in the playground or the classroom, guiding your partner around the everyday obstacles in the world around us. Think about how important it would be for the vision-impaired community to be able to drive themselves to places instead of having to rely on others like you just had to do. How could it also be beneficial to their friends and family as well? What might the negatives be?

Extension: Write about your experience as the vision-impaired person and what it would mean to be able to drive yourself places.

Time: allow at least 30 minutes to complete the task

Curriculum Links: English, Big Write & VCOP

Activity provided by Andrell Education

Driverless bus media_cameraAustralia’s first driverless shuttle, the RAC Intellibus, being trialled in Perth. Photo: Daniel Wilkins







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