The same technologies used to help robots explore their surroundings are being adapted to help blind people navigate independently. New Scientist reports.
The new system consists of a pair of glasses that is equipped with cameras and sensors. A 3D map of the wearer’s environment and their position within it is constantly updated and displayed in a simplified form onto a handheld electronic braille device.
The device could eventually allow the blind to make their way anywhere, unaided, according to the developers, a team led by Edwige Pissaloux at the Pierre and Marie Curie University in Paris.
“Navigation for me means not only being able to move around by avoiding nearby obstacles, but also to understand how the space is socially organized,” Pissaloux explains. “For example, where you are in relation to the pharmacy, library or intersection.”
- A 3D image of the scene is generated by 2 cameras on either side of the glasses. A processor analyses the image, picking out the edges of walls or objects, which it uses to create a 3D map.
- Accelerometers and gyroscopes – like those used in robots to monitor their position – keep track of the user's location and speed. This information is combined with the image to determine the user's position in relation to other objects.
- Almost 10 maps per second are generated, and these are transmitted to the handheld device to be displayed as a dynamic tactile map.
- The braille pad is a 1-inch square grid with pins and a ‘shape memory alloy’ spring in the middle. When heat is applied to the springs, they expand, raising the pins to represent boundaries.
The braille version of the map is updated fast enough for a visually-impaired wearer to pass through an area at walking speed.
The device was unveiled at a talk at MIT this month.
[Via New Scientist]
Image by elise.y via Flickr
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