Gizmos & Gadgets: Turn a Smartphone into a Virtual Cane for the Blind

January 16, 2014 – Researchers at the University of Palermo in Sicily have taken inspiration from the Greek myth, Theseus, the labyrinth and the Minotaur, to develop a smartphone app called Arianna, the Italian name for the goddess Ariadne.

In the myth Ariadne gave Theseus a skein of thread which he laid down as he wandered through the labyrinth in search of the Minotaur. When he finally found the creature and killed it he was able to follow the thread back to the entrance.

It uses augmented perception and not GPS (because it doesn’t work inside a building) to navigate inside a structure. To use it the building must first be mapped out using tape placed on the floor to show routes much like hospitals which have been using colour keyed lines as navigation guides for visitors and patients.

Using the smartphone’s built-in camera, a user points it to the ground and gently waves the phone from side to side. Each time the app encounters a line it signals the phone to vibrate creating a tactile response, thus acting as a virtual cane. The user then follows the line to find how to get to his or her destination within the building.

The lines can be further enhanced with QR codes placed on the ground to provide additional information for the smartphone app user. See the image below to see just how this would work. Important destinations could be labelled making them easy to find for the unsighted user.

The inventors believe future versions can use infrared lines picked up by the built-in detection capability already featured in many smartphone models. Not yet commercially available, the developers, who demonstrated the technology in December at the Boston based, Andrea Bocelli Foundation, state that most of the technology for the app is already available off-the-shelf today.

For more information download the PDF describing the technology at pAth Recognition for Indoor Assisted NavigatioN with Augmented perception.





Len Rosen lives in Toronto, Ontario, Canada. He is a researcher and writer who has a fascination with science and technology. He is married with a daughter who works in radio, and a miniature red poodle who is his daily companion on walks of discovery. More...