Anthony Camu, a student at Loughborough University in the UK has designed a prototype of a new guide device to provide navigational support for those who are visually impaired and cannot use a guide dog. Guide dogs can be invaluable to those who are visually impaired, but many cannot own them because of allergies, expenses, or housing restrictions.
There are approximately 253 million visually impaired people worldwide, and many of these people have to rely on a colored cane for spatial navigation. This can be less safe than using a guide dog.
The new product in development, the Theia, is a handheld device that provides guidance in outdoor or large indoor spaces. It was inspired by autonomous vehicles, as well as virtual reality devices. It is designed to require minimal user input to function, and can be operated by voice.
The user simply makes a verbal request for a route to a certain location. Theia can then utilize online real-time data to select the optimal route, while taking into account factors such as pedestrian and car traffic data, weather, and road closures.
The device can also assist with traversing through specific features such as elevators, doorways, street crossings, and more. It intends to use a sensing method combining Lidar and cameras to analyze the objects and terrain surrounding the user, then determine the best path.
Inside the Theia, a control moment gyroscope, similar to those used in satellites and space vehicles, is used to provide force feedback to users and lead them in the correct direction. This allows directions to be communicated without requiring the user to expend much cognitive effort to understand and follow them. This helps provide instantaneous direction, which is important for ensuring the user’s safety and can also make for time-efficient foot travel.
Anthony Camu, designer of the Theia, said:
“The goal of many non-sighted people is to be independent and live a normal life but unfortunately, many who endure vision loss feel excluded from situations and activities which many people take for granted, such as socialising, shopping or going to restaurants. Such limitations are usually formed due to the fear and anxiety associated with having a partial understanding of the surroundings. Theia has the capacity to expand a blind person’s comfort zones and possibilities, broaden their horizons and allow them to think less about walking and more about what’s waiting for them at the end of the route.”
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