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Solidworks 3D CAD software is helping a team of Virginia Tech students with a project hoped to enable blind drivers see with their hands and ears.

Blind individuals have been driving Virginia Tech’s specially equipped dune buggy in car parks, with full control of the steering, accelerator and brakes.

The drivers follow computer-generated steering commands, for example ‘two clicks to the right’, delivered through headphones.

The steering wheel emits an audible click for every 5deg turned and a vibrating vest signals the driver to slow down or stop.

The onboard computer produces directions based on data about the car’s surroundings collected by a laser on the front of the car.

The Virginia Tech BDC team used Solidworks to perfect the design of the roulette-style click wheel, designing numerous concepts for the click wheel’s internal mechanisms and conducting structured design reviews.

The team also used Solidworks to design the dashboard panel and battery holder, and drive the laser cutting of the parts.

The next major feature on the BDC vehicle will be a device that gives drivers a real-time, tactile, topographical map of their surroundings so they can make their own decisions on turning, slowing down or stopping.

Through this device, called the Airpix, drivers will detect terrain through their fingertips.

Airpix works in a similar way to an air hockey table, with pressure being forced upwards through pin holes and stronger pressures indicating obstacles.

The project is the school’s response to a challenge issued by the National Federation of the Blind Jernigan Institute.

SolidWorks, a Dassault Systemes SA brand, is a world leader in 3D solutions.

SolidWorks develops and markets software for design, simulation, product data management and product documentation. It is the leading supplier of 3D CAD technology, giving teams intuitive, high-performing software that helps them design better products.

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More than 1,959,300 product designers and engineers worldwide, representing 169,200 organisations, use SolidWorks to bring their designs to life — from the coolest gadgets to innovations that deliver a better tomorrow.

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