Wearable system with 3D camera makes visually impaired people more mobile

The Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) is doing some amazing work in terms of accessibility tools for visually impaired people. Recently, we wrote about an affordable device for translating Braille in real time, and now MIT researchers are back again with a new wearable device designed to help visually impaired people more easily navigate their environments.

The device comprises a 3D camera, a belt with five vibrational motors, and an electronically reconfigurable Braille interface to give users more information about their immediate environments.

“In a nutshell, our system scans the world and finds the walkable space and obstacles in front of the user with visual impairment,” Robert Katzschmann, a graduate student in mechanical engineering at MIT, told Digital Trends. “The user does not need to explore the space by contacting each part with a white cane. What makes the system especially exciting is that it can detect obstacles of use, such as chairs and tables. All the information is presented to the user through the use of vibrations around his or her abdomen, and through the use of an electronic Braille character display.”

Using technology similar to that employed to (literally and figuratively) drives 3D cars, the device relies on a system able to interpret 3D camera data. It involves smart image recognition algorithms to, for instance, recognize whether a chair is empty or not — rather than just writing it off as an obstacle to be avoided. Information can be conveyed to users surreptitiously, a particular motor vibrates if a person comes within two meters of an obstacle. They also receive information — such as whether it is a table or chair that has been detected — through reconfigurable Braille pads.

“Primarily, the real-world applications are day-to-day scenarios [in which a] user with visual impairment is confronted with navigating a cafeteria, finding his or her way around in a hotel lobby, or finding an empty chair in the bus or train,” Dr. Hsueh-Cheng Wang, a former postdoctoral researcher at MIT and now an assistant professor of electrical and computer engineering at National Chiao Tung University in Taiwan, told us.

In tests, the researchers found that the chair-finding system reduced subjects’ collisions with non-chair objects by 80 percent, while the separate navigation system reduced the number of cane collisions with people in a hallway by 86 percent.

“We plan [next] to extend this work from indoor to outdoor environments, and detect more objects a blind user wishes to interact with,” Katzschmann continued. Long term, the hope is to commercialize the technology, so as to bring it to whoever needs it.

Product Review

Want to see how powerful the Snapdragon 855 chip is? Just rev up the Xiaomi Mi 9

How fast do you want to go? If the answer to this is “as fast as possible,” then take a long look at the Xiaomi Mi 9. It’s one of the highest performance smartphones you can buy. It’s a real monster, and we’ve been using it.
Gaming

You're never too broke to enjoy the best free-to-play games

Believe it or not, free-to-play games have evolved into engaging, enjoyable experiences. Here are a few of our favorites that you can play right now, including Warframe and the perennially popular League of Legends.
Emerging Tech

Wish you could fly? You totally can with these top-of-the-line drones

In just the past few years, drones have transformed from a geeky hobbyist affair to a full-on cultural phenomenon. Here's a no-nonsense rundown of the best drones you can buy right now, no matter what kind of flying you plan to do.
Movies & TV

The best movies on Amazon Prime right now (February 2019)

Prime Video provides subscribers with access to a host of fantastic films, but sorting through the catalog can be an undertaking. Luckily, we've done the work for you. Here are the best movies on Amazon Prime Video right now.
Mobile

Barbie’s Corvette ain’t got nothing on Sphero’s fully programmable robot car

Sphero is known for devices like the Sphero Bolt and BB-8 Star Wars toy, but now the company is back with another addition to its lineup -- the Sphero RVR. The RVR is a fully programmable robot car that can be expanding with different…
Emerging Tech

Japanese spacecraft will collect a sample from asteroid Ryugu by shooting at it

The Japanese spacecraft Hayabusa 2 will soon touch down on the asteroid Ryugu, where it will collect a sample by shooting a bullet into the soil. The sample will be returned to Earth in 2020 to learn about the formation of asteroids.
Emerging Tech

We tried a $500 electronic dab rig, and now we can’t go back to normal vaporizers

Induction heating is the future of cannabis vaporizers. Loto Labs wowed us with what likely is the best concentrate vaporizer on the market today. With a $500 price tag, it's expensive, but it should definitely be your next dab rig.
Emerging Tech

Hong Kong’s vision for a smart prison is a full-blown Orwellian nightmare

Hong Kong wants to bring prisons up to date by introducing new location-tracking wristbands for inmates, and a robot arm whose job is to comb through poop on the lookout for contraband.
Emerging Tech

No faking! Doctors can now objectively measure how much pain you’re in

Researchers at Indiana University School of Medicine have discovered the blood biomarkers that can objectively reveal just how much pain a patient is in. Here's why that's so important.
Emerging Tech

SeaBubbles’ new electric hydrofoil boat is the aquatic equivalent of a Tesla

What do you get if you combine a Tesla, a flying car, and a sleek boat? Probably something a bit like SeaBubbles, the French "flying" boat startup which offers a fresh spin on the hydrofoil.
Emerging Tech

Israel will launch world’s first privately funded moon mission tomorrow

This week will see the world's first privately funded lunar mission launch. Israel's first mission to the moon will be launched aboard SpaceX's Falcon 9 rocket on Thursday, February 21.
Emerging Tech

FDA warns about the dangers of anti-aging blood transfusions

It turns out injecting old people with blood from healthy youngsters may not be the answer to health rejuvenation. That’s according to the FDA, which says such claims are dangerous junk science.
Emerging Tech

Here’s where to watch this week’s SpaceX launch from Cape Canaveral

If you've been following the SpaceX launch calendar, you know this week marks the first launch from Cape Canaveral in two months. We have the details on where you can watch the launch live.
Emerging Tech

Bees can do arithmetic, setting the scientific community abuzz

A new study has found something remarkable: Bees can do basic arithmetic. Researchers showed that bees could use colors as representations for numbers and then use those colors for addition and subtraction.