A DRIVERLESS vehicle could allow a blind RAF veteran to take his wife for a drive again.

Saltdean resident Tony Harper became blind in 2008 after a cataract operation.

The 83-year-old said: “The worst thing that happens when you lose your sight is when the brown envelope comes through the door and you’re asked for your licence back.”


Dr Renata Gomes, Blind Veteran UK’s head of research and innovation, said that a study found 98 per cent of people who had gone blind said driving was the thing they missed most.

She said: “It really affects their ability to be spontaneous.”

Now, a six-month trial is being held by driverless technology company Aurrigo and charity Blind Veterans UK at its centre in Ovingdean.

Tony said: “For me it would be lovely to be able to say to my wife, ‘let me take you out for a drive’.

“My ultimate thing would be to go for a drive on the seafront on my 85 birthday.”

Dr Gomes said there had been discussions about using the cars along the seafront between Brighton Marina and Brighton Palace Pier.

The trial is the first of its kind to test the use of driverless pods with people with disabilities and will use cameras to analyse users’ reaction to them as they travel around Blind Veteran UK’s rehabilitation centre in Ovingdean.


Miles Garner, Aurrigo’s director of sales and marketing, said: “We are now in a position where we are running trials and selling the product.

“But, it’s a long way until it’s on the roads and mass marketed.”

The electric-powered car, called a “pod zero” has space for four people and a maximum speed of 15 mph.

It has been named Arthur after the founder of Blind Veterans UK, Sir Arthur Pearson.

Former Army engineer Mark Threadgold lost his sight after sustaining a head injury at work.

The 51-year-old said: “When you use buses you have to know every bus and every route. It’s great being in a car again, and as the next progression I would like to see these in the city centre.

“It’s just a case of integrating these new ideas now.”

A launch event was held at the Blind Veteran UK’s Ovingdean centre last week and gave service users the chance to try the driverless pods.

Tony said: “It was absolutely brilliant. When I lost my driving licence I lost my independence.

“This will mean I can go out on my own and be where I want to be, and I think the potential for it is absolutely massive.”