Combining Artificial Intelligence and a Long White Cane

I came across a story from MedCity News yesterday entitled, “Sensors, cameras, GPS & algorithms meet in a wearable device to help the blind navigate.”

Through a partnership between Draper Laboratory, Auburn University, and the National Federation of the Blind, researchers are hoping to create an entirely new class of technology. The story reports

“Current products made to help the blind navigate rely heavily on GPS, which isn’t always detailed or accurate enough to distinguish between, say, a sidewalk and a street, Draper says. Plus, GPS isn’t always available in places like parking garages, underground transit stations and sports venues, and it doesn’t pick up on obstacles like crowds and cars.

“Draper’s invention hinges on two cameras that assess how much distance has been covered by the vehicle or person they’re attached to. In a process called visual odometry, its technology draws directional and distance information from the camera images. Then it maps the detected objects in a given environment.”

Read the full story »

The design of the technology is still under development, but the working theory is that this could be incorporated into a pair of glasses. A prototype isn’t expected until 2015.

I was initially skeptical, for I feared some blind people would leave their canes at home and attempt to appear sighted when traveling in public. I travel with my cane, and feel very safe and independent, but Ryan Strunk—who is blind and reviews the accessibility of new software—had this to say on Twitter last night:

A very good point, and perhaps this will motivate me to go exercise. (By then, though, I’ll find another excuse to exercise my cooking skills.)

What do you think? Post below in the comments.

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Corbb O'Connor
Corbb, a blind entrepreneur, coordinates the outreach and marketing efforts for the Institute on Blindness at Louisiana Tech University as an independent consultant.

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