According to the World Health Organisation (WHO), 285 million people are visually impaired worldwide: 39 million are blind and 246 million have low vision. Additionally, about 90% of the world’s visually impaired live in low-income settings.
Blind people have problems in walking or navigating independently. As such, aides have looked to solve this issue. The most widely used is a white cane; it is a useful tool, but it has certain drawbacks such as small radius and struggle to detect objects on the ground. The other solution is guide dogs, but it is quite expensive and not easily available in developing countries where most blind people live.
The main objective of our project is to develop a wearable, cost-effective, efficient and independent smart guidance system that will assist the blind in avoiding obstacles, identifying places or objects and navigating from one place to another.
We define this as alternative perception. That is to say, using devices to sense the environment and present the blind with meaningful information about their surroundings, allowing them to navigate the area with ease.
We have decided to utilise the Kinect unit for this project. It is a motion sensing input device developed by Microsoft for the Xbox video game. It consists of an IR depth sensor and RGB camera. The IR depth sensor is used to obtain the depth image data of the environment. This sensor is quite powerful and can provide valuable image data to be processed to extract useful information for the blind people.
One setback to the Kinect unit is that the floor itself may be detected as an obstacle. To overcome this limitation we have developed an algorithm that can differentiate between the floor and the obstacles. In this way, the floor will not be detected as an obstacle and obstacles of various sizes above the floor can be readily detected. Furthermore, we have added important additional features, such as the provision of 2D printed codes, which can make the indoor navigation for blind people more effective.
Our solution uses a combination of five vibrators to alert the blind about the obstacles. We occasionally use audio instructions for warning the blind about immediate danger and for providing useful information other than routine guidance.