Virtual Maps for the Blind
American Friends of Tel Aviv University (09/10/09)
BlindAid, developed by Tel Aviv University’s Orly Lahav, is a new program that helps the blind navigate through unfamiliar locations. BlindAid digitally maps real-world places and, with the help of a pre-existing three-dimensional haptic device, enables blind users to navigate them virtually before visiting them in person. The program uses a joystick that produces different sensations under a user’s fingertips. “Walking” around a virtual room, blind users can feel a digital wall ahead when the stick tenses; it also recreates the feeling of grass, sidewalks, asphalt, and tiled floors. Moreover, the device replicates sounds, such as the hiss of an espresso machine to indicate a nearby coffee shop, or the ringing of phones for a customer service desk. Lahav gave the program to several volunteers from the Carroll Center for the Blind. After three or four uses of BlindAid, a partially blind woman successfully visited 12 unknown, real-world locations while wearing a blindfold. Lahav says that blind users “get feedback from the device that lets them build a cognitive map, which they later apply in the real world. It’s like a high-tech walking cane.” She says that with the help of a geographic information system, the program could help blind users explore any unknown area virtually before visiting it alone in the real world.
Filed under: ICT