Sunday, November 20, 2011

Tablet As Braille Writer

Adam Duran and his mentors have created a unique app that allows a tablet to be used as a Braille writer. But.. how is it possible for a blind person to use a tablet with a just a flat/smooth touchscreen (and no physical keys) to type characters?

That's where this app stands out. Instead of making the user find keys with their fingertips the traditional way, this app finds the fingertips of the user and produces "keys" on the screen right under the fingertips which can then be used to type Braille characters. It doesn't matter how thick or thin the user's fingers are - the user just touches the screen with their eight fingers and the keys appear and orient themselves to the fingers. In case the user becomes disoriented, the app can be reset simply by lifting all fingers off the screen and putting them back down.

This app has not been launched to the masses yet.

Here's a video of this concept and app in action:

Hit the source link for more information.

Source: Engadget, Stanford University

Sunday, November 13, 2011

Car For The Blind

Dennis Hong, Associate Professor at Virginia Tech is busy designing a car for the blind.  Woah, wait a minute! A car for the blind, you say? One may think that that's pretty much impossible, but you will be surprised to see how close the concept is to completion.

Dr. Hong's car for the blind is a work in progress, aka a prototype. It all started when he was contacted by the National Federation of the Blind to design a car for the visually impaired that would not only give instructions (turn right, turn left, stop), but also allow them to make active decisions (speed up, slow down, stop). In the initial stages he created a dune buggy prototype, but the problem with that was that it was designed to be in a very controlled environment - a parking lot, if you will. The real challenge was to develop a real car that would be driven on real roads. 

Here is that car..

The car primarily acts on three principles:

Perception: Since the car is driven by people who cannot see, it needs to perceive the environment and gather information for the driver. The car uses measurement units that measure acceleration and fuse that information with a GPS unit to get an estimated location of the car. There are two cameras on the road that detect lanes on the road, and a laser range finder that detects obstacles around the car.

Computation: This is where all the information gathered by the perception components are processed and conveyed to the driver. As I mentioned above, this car doesn't just give the driver instructions, but also allows them to make decisions. Well, how do you convey instructions and information at the same time to someone who is blind?

Non Visual Interfaces: Using NVIs. The car uses several Non Visual Interfaces that assist the driver in gauging the environment and making decisions.

DriveGrip: These are gloves that the driver wears that have vibration components on the knuckles part. These gloves convey instructions on how to steer (direction and intensity).

SpeedStrip: This is a chair with vibrating elements that convey instructions on how to use gas and brake pedals.

AirPix: This is an interface out of which compressed air comes out. The cameras on the car send information to AirPix which in turn is sensed by the driver.

Other NVIs.

Watch the video of Dr. Hong presenting this idea at TED. At 5:30 in the video, you will see a successful implementation of this concept in the real world.

This prototype does what it is supposed to do, but is it easy to introduce this car in the market? How would society react to such a vehicle? Would blind people be accepted as "real" drivers? Would rules be amended to provide driving licenses to blind people? Dr. Hong also mentions in his talk that this concept is not just for the blind. It can very well be used to make driving a lot more safer and easier even for people with vision.

What are your thoughts?

Source: TED

Read more here: CNN

[Thanks for sharing this, Darby!]

Wheelchair That Can Be Controlled Using Facial Expressions

Researchers at Japan's Miyazaki University have come up with a prototype wheelchair that has the ability to recognize facial expressions. This wheelchair is especially beneficial for people who have paralysis from the neck down or are losing power in their muscles due to Muscular Dystrophy/ALS. The wheelchair is very easy to use, and requires these facial expressions for movement:

Blink left eye: Turns wheelchair to the left.
Blink right eye: Turns wheelchair to the right.
Clench teeth: Wheelchair moves forward.
Clench teeth again: Wheelchair stops.

This wheelchair uses proximity sensors to determine if there are any objects in the path. If there is no obstruction, then the wheelchair speeds up, and if it detects something, it slows down. It stops when it is a meter away from an object.

The researchers soon plan to use wireless goggles instead of the facial electrodes to communicate with the wheelchair. This year they are testing it with muscular dystrophy patients and getting feedback. They plan to release a commercial version next year.

Watch this video for a demo:

Source: Gizmodo,, TechCrunch