Engineers at the University of Colorado Boulder are developing a smart walking stick powered by AI and computer vision to help the visually impaired perform everyday tasks—such as shopping for groceries, with ease.
In a world designed for sighted individuals, engineers at the University of Colorado Boulder are leveraging artificial intelligence (AI) and computer vision technology to improve accessibility and independence for the visually impaired.
In a recently published study, Shivendra Agrawal, a doctoral student at CU Boulder and his colleagues describe an autonomous goal-based navigation system that uses AI and computer vision technology to assist blind or visually impaired individuals in navigating unknown indoor environments.
Packed into the form factor of a white cane, the system uses a combination of computer vision, robotics, and motion planning techniques, as well as insights from psychology to assist visually impaired users to guide themselves conveniently and independently in social settings.
The assistive cane works by performing what is known as ‘simultaneous localization and mapping’ (SLAM) to create a virtual map of an unknown area around the device by utilizing the information collected by cameras and an Inertial Measurement Unit (IMU)—a device that measures the movement and rotation of an object by using accelerometers and gyroscopes. The IMU can be imagined as a sensor that can accurately tell how much and in which direction an object is moving.
All of this information is then captured and used to help the users navigate through an unfamiliar environment by haptic feedback, enabled by motors installed on the cane’s grip. The system also provides audio feedback to assist the users through spoken directions, such as asking the user to “reach a little bit to their right”.
In their proof-of-concept pilot study, the authors were able to demonstrate the viability of the robotic system, which helped usher visually impaired users to socially preferred seats.
“AI and computer vision are improving, and people are using them to build self-driving cars and similar inventions,” commented Agrawal.
“But these technologies also have the potential to improve quality of life for many people.”
The advances in artificial intelligence (AI) technology have the potential to transform lives—and innovation shows how AI can be used to help overcome the barriers that people with disabilities face in their daily lives, making it a powerful tool for improving their quality of life.
This may be seen as a step towards a more inclusive society where technology is used to support people with disabilities, promoting their integration into the community.