Here’s a cool student engineering project: A team of students at Virginia Tech is leveraging CAD software to help blind people drive using their hands and ears to navigate instead of their eyes.
The Virginia Tech Blind Driver Challenge team is working with SolidWorks to create a roulette-style click wheel and other components for their specially-equipped, semi-autonomous dune buggy. The steering wheel is key to giving the blind drivers independence, furnishing them with full control of the steering, accelerator and brakes. The steering wheel emits an audible click for every five degrees it’s turned, and a vibrating vest also plays a role, signaling the driver to slow down or stop. Additionally, there is an on-board computer that uses a laser to collect data about the car’s surroundings, producing further directions for the driver.
SolidWorks 3-D CAD software came into play to help the team design numerous concepts for the click wheel’s internal mechanisms and to help conduct structured design reviews. 3-D modeling was essential for visualizing and choosing between ideas as well as for detecting interference and ultimately, choosing the best design. SolidWorks was also used to design the dashboard panel and battery holder and to drive the laser cutting of the parts.
Next up for the team and the 3-D modeling project will be a device called AirPix, which will let drivers make their own decisions on turning, stopping or slowing down (not be told what to do via voice and audibles) employing a real-time, tactile topographical map of their surroundings. Using SolidWorks as a virtual prototyping tool, the team will evolve the AirPix design, which they envision working like an air hockey table. AirPix will force pressure upwards through pin holes, and stronger pressure will indicate obstacles to the blind driver.