Blind People May Be Able to 'See' Through Their Smartphones

Thursday, 25 June 2015 - 7:44PM
Thursday, 25 June 2015 - 7:44PM
Could smartphone technology allow the blind to visualize their environments? Computer scientists are developing new smartphone technology that could enable blind or visually impaired people to "see" through their phones. 

"This project will build on previous research to create an interface that can be used to help people with visual impairments," said project leader Dr. Nicola Bellotto.

Dr. Bellotto's team plans to place color and depth sensor technologies inside smartphones, which will then enable 3-D mapping, localization, navigation, and object recognition. An interface will then be built to relay that information to the user of the smartphone, through sound, vibration, or the spoken word - all within the palm of a hand. So it won't literally allow visually impaired people to see, but it will allow them to quickly and conveniently visualize their surroundings without making contact with anything in their environment.

"We aim to create a system with 'human-in-the-loop' that provides good localization relevant to visually impaired users, and, most importantly, that understands how people observe and recognize particular features of the environment," said Bellotto. 

This interface stands out from those already available on the market, such as guide dogs, cameras, wearable sensors, etc. as a result of its inconspicuousness. "If people were able to use technology embedded in devices such as smartphones, it would not require them to wear extra equipment which could make them feel conscious."

A key component of the proposed system is its ability to adapt to an individual's experiences, modifying the guidance it provides as the machine "learns" from its landscape and its interaction with humans. So, not only will this technology be more discreet, it will also be more personalized, and the closest thing to replacement robot eyes we have so far.


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