Sensing systems for robots could help blind navigate

Parisian researchers have developed a 3D navigation system for the blind using a pair of glasses equipped with cameras and sensors like those used in robot exploration.

The technologies that help robots navigate their surroundings are being adapted to help blind people to move about indoor and outdoor spaces independently.

New Scientist reports of a 3-D navigation system for the blind being developed at the Institute of Intelligent Systems and Robotics at the Pierre and Marie Curie University in Paris, France. It consists of a pair of glasses equipped with cameras and sensors like those used in robot exploration, and a handheld electronic Braille device.

The system produces a 3-D map of the wearer's environment and his/her position within it that is constantly updated and displayed in a simplified form on the handheld device.

It uses a collection of accelerometers and gyroscopes that keeps 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. The system generates roughly 10 maps every second, which are transmitted to the handheld Braille device to be displayed as a dynamic tactile map.

The system could eventually allow blind people to make their way, unaided, wherever they want to go, according to Edwige Pissaloux, a researcher working on the project. She told New Scientist:

"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 - for example, where you are in relation to the pharmacy, library or intersection."

Other new navigation systems for the blind include MIT's EyeRing, which uses a small camera worn as a ring that can be pointed at objects to "see" or "hear" more information about it. The ring takes a picture or a video that is then sent wirelessly to a mobile phone, where software analyzes the content and reads out an answer.

Taking it a step further, there is no shortage of research into bionic eyes. A 10-year-long effort by Bionic Vision Australia to develop glasses could help the blind regain some acuity of large objects after tests kick off next year.

One day visually impaired people or those with eye-related diseases will have more options to consider, and the white cane could become a thing of the past.


Successful test for electronic contact lens A better wearable brain-computer interface Bionic eye to help the blind see