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Amazing Technologies That are Helping the Blind See

The statistics on blindness vary because there is no universal definition. In the United States it is defined as “central visual acuity of 20/200 or less in the better eye with the use of a correcting lens”. According to the World Health Organization there are 285 million visually impaired people worldwide. That’s a lot of people who could stand to benefit from some clever technology.

A lot of work and research being done to find ways to improve life for partially-sighted and blind people. Here you’ll find five of the most interesting technological developments that could help the visually impaired and the blind.

Assisted Vision Smart Glasses

In a research it has been found that a vast majority of blind people have some remaining sight. Assisted Vision Smart Glasses can be used to make them benefited. “What we’re trying to do with the project is produce a pair of glasses that can enable someone who has got very little sight to allow them to walk around unfamiliar places, to recognize obstacles, and to get a greater independence”, said Dr Stephen Hicks from the University of Oxford, to The Royal Society as he showed off his smart glasses.

Image: Dr Stephen Hicks, University of Oxford

The prototype of Assisted Vision Smart Glass; Image Source: digitaltrends.com

These smart glasses are constructed using transparent OLED displays, two small cameras, a gyroscope, a compass, a GPS unit, and a headphone. “Our latest prototype has an Epson Moverio BT 100 and an Asus xtion depth camera and 3D printed frames”, explained Dr Hicks.

It has been proved most visually impaired people can distinguish between light and dark. These glasses takes scenarios as incoming data which is then processed and used in various ways. For example, brightness can be used to show depth. These glasses can make anything that’s close to the wearer brighter, so they can discern people and obstacles.

Here's what wearers see. Image: Dr. Stephen Hicks,  University of Oxford

Here’s what wearers see; Image Source: digitaltrends.com

The cameras can also work with the computing module and the right software to recognize the number on an approaching bus, or to read a sign. The GPS module can be used to give directions. The gyroscope helps the glasses to calculate changes in perspective as the wearer moves. All of the information is spoken aloud through the built-in ear piece.

The researchers are still working on reducing the size of the glasses and plan to distribute an initial batch of 100 to blind and partially sighted people before the year is out. If the trial goes well, and there’s interest from a manufacturer, then larger scale production could be on the cards.

AI Glasses

There is another smart glasses project in progress in CINVESTAV (Center for Research and Advanced Studies of the National Polytechnic Institute) at Mexico. It combines computational geometry, artificial intelligence, and ultrasound techniques to create a useful aid for the visually impaired.

Image: CINVESTAV

The prototype of the AI glass; Image Source: digitaltrends.com

“We currently have a light weight, ergonomically acceptable prototype since it almost looks like a normal pair of glasses and can work in real time with batteries that last approximately four hours in continuous use. We hope to have a commercial prototype by next August at the latest, and being able to market it in early 2015”, project leader, Eduardo José Bayro Corrochano, told Investigacion y Desarrollo.

The prototype combines glasses with stereo sound sensors and GPS technology attached to a tablet. It is able to give spoken directions, read signs, identify colors, and other things. It also employs machine learning to recognize different places and objects. Because it uses ultrasound, it can also detect translucent obstacles, like glass doors.

FingerReader

The technology for reading written text continues to improve and the FingerReader is a good example of a new way of interacting. FingerReader is a MIT Media Labs project which is actually a wearable device, a very chunky ring. You have to wear it on our finger as a ring. When a user scans his or her finger across 12-point printed text, it detects and interprets it. It also gives small vibrations alert to the user if it detects any deviation off the line while scanning.

Image: Fluid Interfaces Group MIT Media Lab

The FingerReader device; Image Source: digitaltrends.com

It’s currently just a concept with a prototype. Yes, we already have apps capable of doing this on our smartphones, and OCR (optical character recognition) is getting fairly reliable, but the FingerReader provides a more natural way of interacting.

ARIANNA app

GPS and other navigation systems tend to struggle with indoor environments. The ARIANNA app, which is also known as pAth Recognition for Indoor Assisted NavigatioN with Augmented perception, is here to solve this problem. Before it can be used you must stick colored tape to the ground to mark out specific routes, much like you see in hospitals.

Image: arxiv.org/abs/1312.3724 : ARIANNA: pAth Recognition for Indoor Assisted NavigatioN with Augmented perception

Process of using ARIANNA: pAth Recognition for Indoor Assisted NavigatioN with Augmented perception; Image Source: digitaltrends.com

Users of the app have to point their smartphone camera at the ground, and as they wave it back and forth there’s a vibration when it finds the line. You can also place QR codes that give additional information, like telling the user there’s a water fountain nearby, or a toilet.

Instead of using tapes, you can use infrared paths, which can be picked up by smartphone cameras, but remain invisible to naked eye.

Braille E-book Reader

Braille literacy has been in steady decline since the 1960s for various reasons. There’s still a debate raging about the importance of Braille and the potential problems with talking computers after research revealed a link between Braille literacy and employment.

Image: Fraunhofer Institute http://www.anagraphs.eu/

Braille ebook reader; Image Source: digitaltrends.com

The Anagraphs project took up the idea and began to work on plans for a device that would employ thermo-hydraulic micro-actuation to activate Braille dots by infrared laser radiation via a micro-mirror scanning system. It’s easier to imagine it as a kind of wax material, which can go from solid to liquid with heat and be easily reshaped to create Braille dots.

Featured Image Source: alphr.com

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