IBM, Carnegie Mellon create open platform to help the blind navigate surroundings

IBM, Carnegie Mellon create open platform to help the blind navigate surroundings

Scientists from IBM Research and Carnegie Mellon University announced the first open platform that supports the creation of smartphone apps that help the blind navigate their surroundings.

Alongside the platform, researchers also unveiled a pilot app, called NavCog, which uses existing sensors and cognitive technologies to inform blind people on the CMU campus about their surroundings by “whispering” into their ears through earbuds or by creating vibrations on smartphones.

The app gets signals from Bluetooth beacons located along walkways and from smartphone sensors to enable users to move without human assistance.The application gets signals from Bluetooth beacons located along walkways and from smartphone sensors to enable users to move without human assistance, whether inside campus buildings or outdoors. At some point in the future, the app may also be able to detect who is approaching and what is their mood. NavCog is now available online and will soon be available on the App Store.

As for the platform, developers interested in playing with it can already download the first set of cognitive assistance tools through IBM Bluemix. The open toolkit consists of an app for navigation, a map editing tool and localization algorithms that can help the blind identify in real time where they are, which direction they are facing and additional surrounding environmental information.

The combination of these multiple technologies is known as “cognitive assistance,” an accessibility research field dedicated to helping the blind gain information by augmenting missing or weakened abilities. Researchers plan to add various localization technologies, including sensor fusion, which integrates data from multiple environmental sensors for highly sophisticated cognitive functioning, such as facial recognition in public places.

“From localization information to understanding of objects, we have been creating technologies to make the real-world environment more accessible for everyone,” said Martial Hebert, director of the Robotics Institute at Carnegie Mellon. “With our long history of developing technologies for humans and robots that will complement humans’ missing abilities to sense the surrounding world, this open platform will help expand the horizon for global collaboration to open up the new real-world accessibility era for the blind in the near future.”