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May 12, 2014 9:15 pm

Israelis Create ‘Electronic Guide Dog’ for the Blind (VIDEO)

avatar by Shiryn Ghermezian

A blind man. Photo: Flickr.

Three students from the Faculty of Electrical Engineering at Israel’s Technion Institute of Technology have created an electronic device that could help blind people navigate without the assistance of a seeing eye cane or guide dog, tech blog No Camels recently reported.

The product deciphers images captured by a Kinect camera also developed in Israel and gives the user audio feedback by way of a mobile application. The device warns the person of obstacles and even recognizes certain previously-programmed objects.

“The technological advantage of the Kinect camera lies in its ability to take very good depth images and that it is relatively cheap,” said Tazhi Simkin, who worked on the project with fellow undergrads Gal Dalal and Danny Zilber. “This field is continually evolving, with cameras becoming smaller and less expensive all the time. Our project connected the depth images received from a smartphone application, to guide the blind within a given space.”

The camera is placed on the user’s belt and takes images of the surrounding area, Dalal explained. The wireless device then processes the pictures, warns the user of obstacles through voice indication and directs the person to “studied objects,” such as keys or a handbag that the application is programmed ahead of time to recognize. When approaching a roadblock, the application warns the user to stop and redirects him or her in order to avoid the barrier, Simkin explained.

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The product has yet to be tested on blind people, but Simkin said it worked successfully when he and the other students tried it while blindfolded. The group of students said they recently contacted the Association for the Blind in Haifa so they can test the application on the visually impaired and obtain feedback for needed improvements.

“I am interested in continuing to develop the product, so that it can be used by the blind one day. There are over 150 million blind and visually impaired people in the world, yet the number of technological solutions offered to them today is very limited,” he said. “Despite advances in technology, the best means of guidance remains through a seeing eye cane or guide dog. Our product is not yet perfected, and we intend to continue to develop it.”

Simkin said he came up with the idea for the device when he saw a blind man having trouble crossing the road.

“I thought that if I could only describe to him, through technological means, a snapshot of the surrounding area, I would make it much easier for him and build his confidence in getting better oriented with his surroundings,” he said. “I wanted to combine technological development with social assistance, and this is how this product was born.”

The project was awarded a perfect grade and was submitted to a competition for outstanding faculty projects, said Koby Kohai, head of the Control Robotics & Machine Learning Laboratory at the Faculty of Electrical Engineering.

Learn more about the device in the video below:

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