TORC’s Autonomous Vehicle Featured on the Today Show

From TORC Technologies, a VT KnowledgeWorks member company. A version of this post appeared on Handshake 2.0.

In early 2010 Dr. Dennis Hong, Director of Robotics and Mechanisms Lab (RoMeLa) at Virginia Tech, was tasked with upgrading his “phase 1” prototype dune-buggy and nonvisual interfaces for the National Federation of the Blind (NFB) Blind Driver Challenge, and putting blind drivers in a real, road-ready vehicle. Because of the way the nonvisual interfaces (DriveGrip and SpeedStrip) work, the equivalent of an autonomous vehicle was required.
 
To accomplish this in such an aggressive timeframe, and remain focused on improving the novel devices used to communicate with the blind driver, Dr. Hong made the decision to leverage TORC’s off-the-shelf mobile robotics platform – the ByWire XGV. This “modified Ford Escape” was then topped off with TORC’s PowerHub modules which are used to distribute power to all of the added sensors, computers, and the nonvisual devices added to the system. A custom version of TORC’s AutonoNav (autonomous navigation system) was used to process the environment and make driving decisions.
 
In a typical autonomous vehicle, these decisions would be fed back into the vehicle’s control systems to carry out the actual driving behaviors. Here is what makes this project so unique: Instead of driving the blind person around autonomously, the whole point of the Challenge was to let the blind person make active decisions and have full control over driving the vehicle. This is why communicating through the nonvisual interfaces was so critical for the project’s success.
 
This is a perfect example of why using TORC products makes sense – it allows the researchers to proceed full steam ahead on their technological innovations and not “reinvent the wheel” by building custom, one-off robotic systems which can eat up a majority of a project’s time and engineering resources. TORC is extremely proud to have its products and engineering support used in such a visionary project led by the Dr. Hong, NFB and Virginia Tech.



You can see the story on the Today Show, read more about about it on Montgomery County, VA Economic Development and TORC’s Media Center and learn more about TORC on Inside VT KnowledgeWorks.

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