SBIR Phase I

Development of a haptic guidance interface for eliminating veering during indoor and outdoor navigation by blind and visually impaired travelers

Project Summary

The primary goal of this Phase I SBIR project is to advance development and perform efficacy testing of an innovative accessibility technology that aims to mitigate orientation and veering errors of blind and visually impaired (BVI) navigators. Orientation and Mobility (O&M) training teaches BVI students how to process and use information for navigating environments, and how to handle obstacle detection and avoidance using the long cane or dog guide. Modern accessibility technologies provide position-specific environmental descriptions and navigation instructions through computer-generated speech. However, there is a critical gap in the information provided by these existing tools. Specifically, BVI pedestrians still frequently experience difficulties in some key non-visually guided spatial tasks, such as disorientation and veering due to the absence of reliable spatial cues normally provided by vision. Neither modern O&M training nor current technologies have solved these omnipresent and detrimental accessibility issues. Even sighted people can become disoriented and veer when they experience visual deprivation, e.g., during sudden and drastic illumination changes, in fog, or other low-resolution conditions. Research shows that for perception and action tasks such as maintaining orientation, visual information is inherently spatial. This suggests that oriented walking could be performed using other, nonvisual spatial sensory information—as long as the information is reliable and salient to the navigator. Importantly, BVI navigators are able to readily process and use spatial information from nonvisual sensing, especially on the basis of dynamic geospatial haptic cuing as is used here. Indeed, the distal pad of the index finger is an excellent transducer of fine-grained dynamic spatial information. This inspired our use of haptics as a potential solution for eliminating veering, which is harnessed in this project to provide safe and efficient path finding. Furthermore, this project leverages sensor technologies that are built into smartphones to convey precise and accurate dynamic spatial information—indoors and outdoors—which is significant because the smartphone platform is already widely embraced and understood as a navigational aid by BVI pedestrians. The purpose of this Phase I study is to further develop and examine the effectiveness of dynamic tactile pointing for indoor and outdoor wayfinding to eliminate veering. Ultimately, through sensing technologies, an intuitive smartphone application, and a novel haptic interface that delivers fine-grained, dynamically updated spatial cues through mapped routes and destinations, BVI navigators will be able to walk precisely along their intended spatially defined routes. Our advancements include a tiny wearable mapping computer, plus encouraging preliminary results that demonstrate precise wayfinding within one-degree and one-meter error or better, which is especially helpful indoors and in busy intersections where fine-grained position estimation is critical to keep BVI pedestrians safely along their intended routes and destinations.

SBIR Phase I Subcontract

Assessing efficacy of devices using tactile cues to eliminate the veering tendency of blind and visually impaired pedestrians

Project Narrative

Blind and visually impaired (BVI) individuals face significant challenges with disorientation and veering when walking and navigating. This Phase I project will develop and empirically demonstrate that a novel wireless handheld tactile interface, coupled with conventional smartphone sensors and software, eliminates the veering tendency of blind pedestrians, thereby improving the accuracy, efficiency, and safety of BVI travel. By providing dynamic orientation information through the spatially sensitive fingertip, this technology will allow blind pedestrians to track straight lines along intended routes, indoors and outdoors; and arrive at destinations with high precision and accuracy.

Phase II Commercialization Plan

Our commercialization plan is currently in development.