Virtual maps for the blind

September 16, 2009

Orly Lahav of Tel Aviv University has created a haptic software tool called BlindAid to help the blind and visually impaired navigate unfamiliar locations. The “digital white cane” provides tactile and aural feedback as the user explores 3D virtual worlds based on maps of real-world environments.

[Image: Orly Lahav’s BlindAid in action, via American Friends of TAU].

ACM summarizes:

“Walking” around a virtual room, blind users can feel a digital wall ahead when the stick tenses; it also recreates the feeling of grass, sidewalks, asphalt, and tiled floors. Moreover, the device replicates sounds, such as the hiss of an espresso machine to indicate a nearby coffee shop, or the ringing of phones for a customer service desk.

By using the software to develop a cognitive map of the target area, blind users are able to “pre-explore” unknown space. “With the help of a geographic information system, the program could help blind users explore any unknown area virtually before visiting it alone in the real world.”

 

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