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Scientists develop indoor navigation system for blind

Reno, US: University of Nevada, Reno computer science engineering team Kostas Bekris and Eelke Folmer developed ‘Navatar’, an indoor navigation system for people with visual impairments. They used combination of human-computer interaction and motion-planning research to build a low-cost accessible navigation system, which can run on a standard smartphone.

Navatar uses digital 2D architectural maps that are already available for many buildings and uses low-cost sensors, such as accelerometers and compasses that are available in most smartphones, to navigate users with visual impairments.

The system locates and tracks the user inside the building, finding the most suitable path based on the users special needs and gives step-by-step instructions to the destination.

Folmer, who has developed exercise video games for the blind, said, “To synchronise the location, our system combines probabilistic algorithms and the natural capabilities of people with visual impairments to detect landmarks in their environment through touch, such as corridor intersections, doors, stairs and elevators.”
Folmer explained that as touch screen devices are challenging to use for users with visual impairments, directions are provided using synthetic speech and users confirm the presence of a landmark by verbal confirmation or by pressing a button on the phone or on a Bluetooth headset.

A benefit of this approach is that the user can leave the phone in their pocket leaving both hands free for using a cane and recognising tactile landmarks.

The team is currently trying to implement their navigation system in other environments and integrate it into outdoor navigation systems that use GPS.

For their work on the indoor navigation system for the blind, Bekris and Folmer recently won a PETA Proggy Award for Leadership in Ethical Science. PETA’s Proggy Awards (“Proggy” is for “progress”) recognise animal-friendly achievements. The navigation system was deemed such an achievement because it could decrease the need to rely on guide dogs.

They presented and demonstrated their research at the IEEE International Conference on Robotics and Automation in Saint Paul, Minnesota, at the CM SIGCHI Conference on Human Factors in Computing Systems, which is the premier international conference on human-computer interaction.

Source: GPS Daily