Smartphone app is designed to use 3D camera technology to detect overhead obstacles

Date Posted: 03/02/2015

The need for devices to assist people who are blind or have low vision in detecting and avoiding overhead obstacles such as awnings or tree branches while traveling is one that has been addressed by device manufacturers in the field of visual impairment (for example, the UltraCane, created by Sound Foresight Technology, Yorkshire, United Kingdom). A new solution for this problem in the form of a smartphone application or "app" is described in a recent issue of IEEE Journal of Biomedical and Health Informatics. Created by computer scientists at Spain's Universidad de Alicante's Depto. de Ciencia de la Computacion e Inteligencia Artifical [Department of Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence], the app called Aerial Object Detection is designed to recognize and monitor obstacles at head height of a person who is visually impaired.

In order to use the app, an individual must wear his or her smartphone from the neck like a pendant with the device's 3D camera pointing away from the body, and the app vibrates when an obstacle is detected. The app is designed to collect data from the orientation sensors (magnetometer and accelerometer) of a smartphone to determine the direction in which the person is walking in order to detect obstacles along the path of movement. The app then gathers information from the device's 3D camera to track potential obstacles as the person approaches and then alert the person if there is danger of collision. The app is also designed to detect indoor obstructions, such as walls or furniture, when used in "telemeter" mode.

"The future really depends on the existence of 3-D mobiles," says designer Francisco Escolano. Until smartphones with 3D cameras are more widely available—the iPhone, for example, does not have a 3D camera—Dr. Escolano and his colleagues will be working on apps for Google Glass or typical smartphones, which have monocular (single-camera) vision. For more information, contact: Francisco Escolano, Universidad de Alicante, Depto. de Ciencia de la Computacion e Inteligencia Artifical, 03690 San Vicente del Raspeig, Alicante, Espana; e-mail: sco@dccia.ua.es; website: www.dccia.ua.es/cp. [Information for this piece was taken from the January 16, 2015, Popular Science article, "Smartphone app helps visually impaired avoid low-hanging obstacles monitoring the environment in 3-D," by Nsikan Akpan.]

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