We've told you before about technology being developed to help the visually impaired do away with the traditional white cane. Using much of the same approach, with the exception of a few tweaks, a group of engineering researchers from he University of Southern California (USC) have thrown their hat in the ring in pursuit of creating a new set of "eyes" for the visually impaired.
Using a helmet-mounted camera and software linked to to a guide vest, the team's efforts lets wearers "see" their surroundings through tactile feedback.
"There are many limitations to canes for the visually impaired, from low hanging branches to large objects," says Gerard Medioni in a USC press release. Medioni is professor in the Institute for Robotics and Intelligent Systems at USC Viterbi.
"We wanted to build an effective system that would provide new opportunities for the visually impaired," he says.
Developed by Medioni and his colleagues, the system's helmet-mounted binocular camera captures images that are wirelessly sent to a computer where Simultaneous Localization and Mapping (SLAM) software builds a 3-D map of the environment. To identify a safe path around obstacles, route information is relayed to wearers of a guide vest.
Four small motors built into the shoulder and waist of the vest produce vibrations to safely steers users away from potential hazards. For example, a vibration on the right shoulder indicates an object on the upper right, such as a low tree branch. A vibration on the left waistline, for example, might indicate a park bench.
The USC team tested their prototype on visually impaired subjects at the Braille Institute and received positive feedback. They're currently looking to replace the bulky, helmet-mounted camera with a micro-camera that could potentially attach to glasses. The team is aiming to have a new system in place by the end of 2011.
Credit: University of Southern California