Smart Mobility Tools Help the Visually Impaired Navigate

Intelligent electronic mobility solutions including canes and sensors can help visually impaired individuals avoid objects and navigate challenging outdoor environments, helping them stay safe and remain independent.

 

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Image credit: WeWalk/Westminster Technologies

Navigating around an external environment is challenging for the visually impaired, who have to deal with physical obstacles, uneven terrain, and varying numbers of other pedestrians just to take a walk. The challenges are even more significant in an urban environment, where traffic and busy intersections can make traveling by foot daunting and potentially dangerous.

In the past, visually impaired individuals relied on common assistive devices and measures to help them stay safe while enabling mobility. Service dogs act as their person’s eyes, and are trained to guide their owner through public places such as city streets, airplanes, or stores. Long canes help individuals with no or low vision get around safely by informing the users of obstacles along their path.  

Technology also helps visually impaired individuals become more comfortably and confidently mobile. Electronic mobility devices use ultrasonic waves to reflect off obstacles directly in front of visually challenged individuals. For instance, head-mounted devices use ultrasonic sensors to detect objects and then communicate the obstacles with gentle vibrations. Other devices, including the Ray Electronic Mobility Aid for the Blind, is a handheld unit that can be used along with a cane and can alert the user to obstacles up to nine feet away with an audible signal or vibration. 

GPS-based Solutions

More recently, devices have been made available that use GPS technology to help navigation. These units use satellite technology to provide auditory feedback to individuals about their position, direction of movement, environment, and routes. Some GPS-enabled capabilities can be integrated into smart phones, Braille note takers, or other mobile devices, while others can be used independently. 

Some apps available for mobile phones include WalkyTalky, which provides direct access to the walking direction information from Google Maps and reads directions aloud. Another option is Intersection Explorer, a touch exploration app that begins at the user’s current location and allows the user to touch the screen and run his or her finger along to explore the neighborhood. However, these GPS devices aren’t sufficiently specific to locate doorways or warn of obstacles or dangerous intersections.

Smart Assistive Technologies

One of the most recent developments in assistive technologies for the visually impaired is the Smart Cane, which can work together with other technologies. The WeWalk Smart Cane is an IoT-based device that can detect obstacles above chest level. It can be paired with a smartphone and provide turn-by-turn navigation options. The WeWalk also informs the user of restaurants, shops, and bus stops and timetables, and it incorporates a voice assistant feature.   

Man walks on sidewalk with smart cane that can detect objects

Image credit: WeWalk/Westminster Technologies

Students at Ohio State School for the Blind tested a smart paint that can be used on crosswalks to help blind students navigate their campus more safely. The paint pairs with sensors installed on students’ canes to let them know when they reach the borders of a crosswalk. The paint is created by adding exotic light-converting oxides to standard road paints, and it works together with a smart cane to detect the smart paint and enable portal-to-portal guidance. The smart cane can also be used to notify vehicles when a user is in the crosswalk.

The solution relies on an integrated framework with an IoT architecture customized for an electronic cane. The architecture includes edge technology, gateway, Internet, middleware and application.

Learn more about smart technologies for the visually impaired:

  • Find out about WeWalk technology.
  • Read a journal article outlining IoT solutions for the visually impaired.
  • Review this blog to discover how smart paint works.
  • See how an Intel® AI-powered backpack helps the visually impaired. 

 

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