A team at the University of Technology Sydney has developed an assistive technology for blind people and those with low vision. The system consists of glasses that can view their surroundings through an on-board camera, appraise the objects nearby using computer vision technology, and then play a sound that provides a cue for the wearer as to their surroundings. These “sound icons” could include a rustling sound when leaves are viewed, or a small bark when a dog appears, as examples. The technology could offer additional information on their environment for low vision wearers, and assist with daily tasks.
Technology that can reveal the world to those who are blind or have low vision is developing apace. Such systems have enormous potential in empowering such people to perform daily tasks, and render them less reliant on others for assistance, enhance their independence and confidence.
This latest technology is somewhat akin to the echolocation used by bats, although it relies on computer vision rather than soundwaves to identify nearby objects. However, sound is still used to communicate the identity of the viewed object in the form of sound icons.
“Smart glasses typically use computer vision and other sensory information to translate the wearer’s surrounding into computer-synthesized speech,” said Chin-Teng Lin, one of the creators of the new system. “However, acoustic touch technology sonifies objects, creating unique sound representations as they enter the device’s field of view. For example, the sound of rustling leaves might signify a plant, or a buzzing sound might represent a mobile phone,”
So far, the researchers have tested the glasses with 14 participants. Of this group, half of the participants were blind or low sighted and the other half were fully sighted but wore a blindfold for the duration of the tests. The glasses allowed the wearers to successfully identify and grasp objects that were present within the field of view of the system.
“The auditory feedback empowers users to identify and reach for objects with remarkable accuracy,” said Howe Zhu, another researcher involved in the study. “Our findings indicate that acoustic touch has the potential to offer a wearable and effective method of sensory augmentation for the visually impaired community.”
Study in journal PLOS ONE: An investigation into the effectiveness of using acoustic touch to assist people who are blind