Here’s a new wonder from the world of technology a smartphone-like gadget that senses an entire room’s features, then it creates a virtual map of it and communicates this to the user. This gadget may one day replace the humble white cane to help the blind sense their surroundings.

Making use of special multi-sensor array technology, the Indoor Navigation Project will help blind to sense their surroundings beyond the cane’s tip, said the researchers.

Project leader Dr Iain Murray from the Curtin University said “the gadget would resemble a smartphone and would sense an entire room’s features, build a virtual map of it and communicate this to the user”.

“A cane is beneficial for going up and down stairs or detecting if obstacles are right in front of you, but is not capable of telling you if something is more than a metre or two away,” Murray added.

“What we are developing is a multi-sensor device for people who are blind, who are also often hearing impaired, to tell them what is exactly around them from wall to wall,” said Murray. He also added that researchers will work on the development of one type of sensor, whether it is sensing the change of velocity, images or noise.

“While many indoor locations already have a map that people who are blind can use to find their way around, they don’t allow for change and can therefore be quite dangerous,” said Murray.

The sensors of this device will sense the direction and distance a user walks indoors along with sensing features such as stairs and inclined platforms.

These devices will feel the edges of paths and obstacles using stereoscopic cameras, and sense what they are, and build a map of the environment using image processing techniques.

The device will also allow for efficient methods of communicating map and sensor data across networks, so as to ensure that data is available before a user collides with an obstacle (in less than 1/6 of a second), researchers said.

Once the obstacles are identified, a map will be built using a Building Information Modelling system suitable for the vision impaired, developed in the sixth research project.

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