Mark Riccobono became the first legally blind man to drive a car independently when he successfully navigated 1.5 miles of the road course section of the famed track at the Daytona International Speedway. Riccobono, a blind executive at The National Federation of the Blind, was behind the wheel of a Ford Escape hybrid equipped with nonvisual technology — gloves and a seat pad that had sensors built in them to help him feel his way along the course.
Riccobono not only successfully navigated the several turns of the road course but also avoided obstacles, some of which were stationary and some of which were thrown into his path at random from a van driving in front of him. Later he successfully passed the van without collision.
The Daytona event was part of research project called The NFB Blind Driver Challenge, which challenged universities, technology developers, and other interested innovators to build interface technologies that will empower blind people to drive a car independently using nonvisual technology.
A team at Virginia Tech accepted the challenge. Over six years, they built a car equipped with laser range-finding censors that conveyed information to a computer inside the vehicle, allowing it to create and constantly update a three-dimensional map of the road environment. The computer sent directions to vibrating gloves that Riccobono wore, indicating which way to steer, and to a vibrating strip on which he was seated, indicating when to speed up, slow down, or stop.