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HomeminewsCERA Looks to Driverless Vehicles for Vision Impaired

CERA Looks to Driverless Vehicles for Vision Impaired

The Centre for Eye Research Australia (CERA) plans to collaborate with companies, industry and relevant bodies to develop autonomous (driverless) vehicle systems.

Professor Jonathan Crowston, CERA Managing Director said “Australia’s rapidly aging population and increasing incidence of diabetes means that vision-loss is likely to become one of the most prevalent disabilities in Australia. Access to mobility services for the vision-impaired will become an urgent priority to maintain quality of life and full community participation. We can bring value to the enhancement of these systems in a myriad of ways, from our deep knowledge of the needs of the vision-impaired to our ability to leverage our position affiliated with a top university to harness expertise in the medical, legal and engineering fields. Now is the time to progress such an initiative.”

Developing systems and enhancements to meet the needs of the vision-impaired will have the added benefit of improving the utility and value of driverless systems for all travellers.

Prof. Crowston asked Steve Hurd, an honorary fellow and councillor for the Glenferrie Ward, Boroondara, to coordinate and lead this project.

It will be the biggest boost for independence… we have ever seen

Mr. Hurd was born legally blind. He holds degrees in Law and Arts and has held various legal and advocacy positions while having strong community and government connections. Mr. Hurd is passionate about the potential of autonomous vehicles and has dreamed of the advent of driverless vehicles since he was a boy.

“It was 1969. Four boys were eating their lunch at school just after the moon landing. Like lots of boys they talked about rockets, cars and of course dreamed of a day they would have their own vehicle. There was one slight problem, these boys were all blind,” said Mr. Hurd.

“Tim Palmer, Tim Smith and Michael Holman were sitting with me, nine-year-old Steve Hurd. One of us asked, “I wonder if they will ever make a car we can use? We started breaking down the problems. Being blind you should think like an engineer to problem solve so we put our minds to the task. We realised some navigation system would be required; a radar system and a group of sensors would have to determine proximity.

“Almost 50 years later that is exactly how Google, Tesla and others are solving the problem. Now, I am a councillor at the City of Boroondara and a fellow at the University of Melbourne working on a project to make sure autonomous cars are usable for vision-impaired people.

“When I finally get a driverless car, I will call it ‘Tim Holman’ as all three of my best friends are no longer with us. Tim Palmer and Mike Holman passed away due to brain tumours and Tim Smith was tragically hit and killed by a car in 1977. They would have loved this project”, said Mr. Hurd.

Mr. Hurd said driverless vehicles now being designed and built will have huge implications for people who are blind and vision-impaired.

“It will be the biggest boost for independence, employment prospects and social integration we have ever seen.”

CERA currently has researchers active in areas relevant to driverless vehicles.

Professor Robyn Guymer led a recent project which developed a novel driving simulator assessment to determine the effect of early age-related macular degeneration on driving.


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