Disability: This tactile cuff indicates to the visually impaired which obstacles to overcome

Researchers from the Technical University of Munich (TUM) have developed an amazing system for the visually impaired, consisting of a 3D camera, worn like glasses, and a cover with haptic feedback that uses vibrations to indicate the presence of nearby obstacles.

In an article on arXiv, for future publication in a scientific journal, Manuel Zahn and Armaghan Ahmad Khan explain how it works.

The obstacle avoidance system combines a 3D camera (Intel RealSense D415) and a haptic feedback cover (a technology that uses touch) that is placed on the blind person’s forearm. This system is light-independent and therefore perfectly usable day and night, indoors (maximum range of 3 metres) or outside (2 metres). When the camera detects an obstacle, it applies a slight vibration to the forearm. The sleeve has a total of 25 small contact points that allow signaling the presence of an obstacle by indicating its location and distance. Indeed, during the first tests carried out, these vibrations were felt in more than 98% of the cases.

Photo credits: Courtesy of Manuel Zahn and Armaghan Ahmad Khan prototype

The aim of this innovation is to make visually impaired people even more independent, knowing that this cover is relatively discreet and prevents stigmatization. Note that the intensity of the vibration depends on the specific location of the sleeve and the musculature of the forearm.

This project is currently still in the prototype phase. In the future it will be necessary to find an optimal system for everyone. Other developments could also be object recognition, to generate perfectly defined paths. Finally, this system could be expanded with bone conduction speakers, for additional voice control.

Scientific progress is such that it is now possible to make visually impaired people almost independent, to move without their traditional white walking stick or guide dog. In recent years, research and innovations have multiplied, from the white walking stick connected to the autonomous robot dog, through the fully equipped backpack and guidebook on smartphone.

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