This haptic feedback system could help the visually impaired get around

  • Gadgets
  • Wednesday, 09 Feb 2022

The prototype sleeve developed by researchers at the Technical University of Munich has 25 points of contact with the forearm. — AFP Relaxnews

Researchers at the Technical University of Munich (TUM) have developed a surprising system to aid visually impaired people, consisting of a 3D camera, worn like glasses, and a haptic feedback sleeve that uses vibrations to signal the presence of obstacles nearby.

In a paper shared online on arXiv, in view of forthcoming publication in a scientific journal, Manuel Zahn and Armaghan Ahmad Khan explain how the system works.

The obstacle avoidance system combines a 3D camera (Intel RealSense D415) and a haptic feedback sleeve placed on the forearm of the blind or sight-impaired person. This system works independently of lighting conditions and can therefore be used day or night, indoors (with a maximum range of three meters) or outdoors (two meters).

When the camera detects an obstacle, it applies a small vibration to the forearm. The sleeve has a total of 25 small points of contact that are used to signal the presence of an obstacle by indicating its location and its distance. During the first tests carried out, these vibrations were correctly felt in more than 98% of cases.

The aim of this innovation is to help visually impaired people become even more independent, bearing in mind that this sleeve is relatively discreet and avoids any potential stigma. Note that the intensity of the vibration depends on the specific location of the sleeve, as well as on the muscularity of the forearm.

For the moment, this project is still in the prototype stage. In the future, it will be necessary to find an optimal system that can suit everyone. Further developments could also include object recognition, in order to generate perfectly delimited paths. Finally, this system could be enhanced with bone conduction speakers for additional voice-based control.

Scientific progress is such that it is now possible to give visually impaired people relative autonomy, helping them get around without the traditional white cane or guide dog. In recent years, research and innovations have multiplied, from the connected white cane to the autonomous dog robot, not to mention a tech-packed backpack and a smartphone guide. – AFP Relaxnews

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