A new electronic device to help blind and vision-impaired people avoid non-protruding obstacles has been developed by University of Melbourne researchers.
The prototype, which can be attached to a cane, walking frame or wheelchair, uses lasers and a camera to identify non-protruding and potentially hazardous obstacles such as kerbs, potholes, descending stairs, and dips in the pavement.
Associate Professor Elaine Wong, Professor Marimuthu Palaniswami and Dr Aravinda Sridhara Rao, from the Department of Electrical and Electronic Engineering, are combining their skills in intelligent sensors, scanning technology and photonics to develop the device.
When Associate Professor Wong’s now nine-year-old was born with congenital blindness she contacted Vision Australia and offered her skills as an engineer in the hope she could help improve the independence and safety of the vision-impaired.
“When fully developed, the device will be a safeguard against falls, which are of major concern, particularly among the elderly,” Associate Professor Wong says.
The team’s next step is to miniaturise the prototype and refine the lasers so they work under all lighting conditions.
They also aim to make the final device as cheap, portable and user-friendly as possible for the 360,000 vision-impaired people in Australia and the 285 million worldwide.
“While the real-time navigation and safety gains are obvious, there are also clear social benefits in helping vision-impaired people continue their social interaction, ensure they stay healthy as they get older, and develop confidence and skills in getting around,” says Associate Professor Wong.
Read more about this important project here. Story credit: University of Melbourne newsroom.
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