While we take much of it for granted in today’s fast-paced life, technology underpins many of the pleasures we have and tasks that we do on a daily basis.
For example, it’s helping us live longer, work smarter, travel easier… and party harder!
But it’s also responsible for improving the quality of life for people who don’t enjoy the same benefits that most of us do.
These two technologies for visually impaired people demonstrate that perfectly…
Move Over, Google Glass… These Are Real Smart Glasses
If you thought ultrasound technology was just for monitoring unborn babies… think again.
Researchers in Mexico have combined it with camera technology and GPS to create unique “smart glasses” that help blind people navigate.
Think Google Glass… but way more useful.
With the technologies all working in harmony, the glasses essentially act as surrogate eyes.
The groundbreaking feature here is the ultrasound technology in the glasses, which bounces ultrasonic waves off nearby objects. That information is fed to a tablet computer, which translates it into a voice message for the wearer to tell them what’s around.
Not only that… when the technology is used in tandem with the cameras, colors and text can also be translated – essential in identifying objects and distinguishing between those that are similar.
Alfonso Rojas Dominguez is one of the “Smart Guide” project researchers at Mexico’s Center for Research and Advanced Studies. He says their innovation will “help visually impaired people in their lives with chores, recognizing documents and tickets, colors, and also help with their mobility.”
Here’s how it works…
High Tech… But With a Price Tag
There is a downside, though…
As with any groundbreaking technology, it doesn’t come cheap.
The project leader, Eduardo Bayro-Corrochano, says while the team wants to “make a product to enrich ourselves and serve society,” he also notes, “We have to be realistic. The technology doesn’t allow for the product to sell below $500.”
You can understand the need to cover the development costs, given that the “Smart Guide” project is still just a prototype and the team has secured $1.7 million in funding.
That’s helped secure two patents for the technology, en route to commercializing the smart glasses in the coming years.
Meantime, in Hungary…
Getting Close? The Vibration Will Tell You
It’s called Aurora – a similar prototype device that aims to give blind people newfound independence.
Similar to the Smart Guide, it uses ultrasonic technology to detect obstacles up to four meters away. As the person walks with the handheld device, “The ultrasonic sensor emits a sound, and it’s reflected from the object. The sound that comes back is detected by the device, and the micro-processor translates this to vibration,” says developer Hunor Menyhárt.
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Aurora is designed to be a complement to the traditional white cane, rather than be a direct replacement, but being able to sense objects and potentially dangerous situations like staircases and holes in the ground.
One blind person who trialed the device noted, “When it alerts me that an object is getting close, it vibrates faster and faster. Then I either find the edge of the obstacle with the white cane or I can use this device to find a point when it doesn’t vibrate so much.”
Glasses? No, Thanks
The big difference with Aurora is that unlike some other devices for the blind, this one isn’t designed to be worn on the head.
That’s deliberate, as Menyhárt explains: “Many developers try to put such a device on the head of the user. But those who are born blind do not develop the common head movement, so they don’t look where they’re moving, and this wouldn’t work. Other devices use sound as feedback, and this cancels one of the remaining senses of the blind people.”
So they used this vibration system instead, which runs on simple AA batteries.
The Aurora team is using crowdfunding efforts to drum up support for development of the device, noting that they still need to boost its durability and water resistance.