Navigation tool for blind people using ultrasound sensors

Welcome back!

In this post, I’d like to take a look at a tool that hits a little closer to home, as in, that is fairly closely related to our thesis, and follow at least partially the general idea we have.

In 2007, Mounir Bousbia-Salah and Mohamed Fezari developed a tool to help blind people navigate for the University of Annaba. Their idea was to build a simple, not-disturbing way to get from one place to the other, while all the way also checking for obstacles around the user. In order to do this, they have a computer voice tell you which ways you can go at intersections, or, as they call it “decision points”. This points the user in the right direction, and leaves him alone until the next decision point. The user can decide for him/herself where to go, and the system will keep track of this. In further research, this is supposed to happen by using GPS, but this has not been implemented as of yet. Right now the distance the person walks is measured in a rather complicated way through accelerometers, and a “footswitch” to check when the user starts a step.Knipsel

The second part of their work, the one that is most resembling of our thesis, is the obstacle detection. In order to achieve this, they use ultrasound sensors, connected with vibrating elements placed on the shoulders of the user. The sensors will detect the closest obstacle, and a vibration will be generated accordingly. The have also implemented this solution in the walking cane, where obstacles are detected in the same way. This leads to an extension, albeit not a physical one, of the cane.

The idea of their solution embodies to me what an ideal solution would look like. It tries to be as little intrusive as possible, only notifying the user when absolutely necessary (for the positional navigation), or using a sense that you generally are not using while walking (for the obstacle avoidance). All the while, it does not require a huge amount of extra hardware (or at least not in the solution they want to be created eventually), which makes the adaptation for the user a bit easier. Another element that adds tot that is that they extend the usage of a very common tool for a blind person, the white cane.

Of course, there are still flaws, in the sense that there is still a decision to make about what should be “decision points”, since this alters the flexibility for the user significantly. Also, even when the GPS solution would be implemented, the device would only be useful in the Americas, since the signal on other continents is much less accurate, and might cause trouble.

As always, remarks and comments are highly encouraged, especially since this is a subject close to our own  work, and any criticism could lead us to change our view on aspects from our thesis!



Dans le noir?

‘Dans le noir’ is the name of a restaurant in Paris. Now you probably wonder what food has in common with our topic. I am not going to give you a review about this restaurant, since we haven’t visited it , but I am going to talk about the concept of this restaurant.

On the website, they describe their restaurant as

“A diving trip into your imagination to “reset” your senses and meet other people. A unique experience that our divisions Ethik Event and Ethik Management try to share with large corporations or institutions in order to develop a positive perception of the difference and to improve the integration of disabilities at work.”

The visitors are having dinner in the pitch dark, guided and served by blind guides. The goal of this experience is to take away the vision of the visitors and let them use their other senses to experience the world of the blind people. To enhance the experience, they let the visitors choose from a surprise menu. This means that they don’t know what they will get. After the dinner, the detailed menu is revealed, which can be a real surprise for some of the visitors.

I really like the concept of this restaurant. It does not only raise awareness for the blind people but it also employs them in a way so that the visitors are dependent on them.

What do you think about this concept? Will you visit this restaurant if you have the chance? Do you think it will change the view of their visitors?



Tactile surfaces

Hello my dear reading audience!

We’ve written a post about a braille smartphone before, but there are other types of tactile surfaces, not specifically targeted towards visually impaired people, that follow the same reasoning: to be able to interact with a device without having to see the screen. The one in particular I’d like to talk about today is one from a rather uncommon source: the Disney research labs.

Among many projects, they have done research to develop what they call the “Tesla Touch” surface. The goal is to have a tangible touch-screen, not in the sense of having actual buttons pop out of it, like other projects have looked into before, but in the sense of being able to feel different types of surfaces depending on the screen input. The technology is based around having a changing oscillating electric field in the screen, which affects how much resistance you feel when you  slide your finger across it. The technical details are written down in their 2010 research paper on the topic.

The more obvious ways to use this type of technology for blind people would be to have them sense when they hover over icons, and have them receive a special type of sensation depending on what the icon is. Although it is not accurate enough to display braille, since you are only able to create a single electric field across the entire surface depending on where touch is registered (which also means you’ll have a single resistive signal for all fingers you use), it will be able to give some sense of feedback from the visual contents of the screen through touch. Couple this with screen readers, and the device gains a lot of extra functionality when targeted towards the visually impaired.

Also, it is not entirely unthinkable that the accuracy is improvable, since capacitive touchscreens nowadays already use multiple electrodes. Similar setups might be able to generate multiple local electric fields, which might enable braille. But that is speculation of course.

Surface using Tesla Touch technology

The big advantage of this type of screen over the reformable ones (where buttons pop out of/the braille smartphone etc), is that there is obviously no mechanical movement in these, which makes maintenance, but also developer-friendliness and power consumption a lot better.

Screens like this could be built into regular tablets and smartphone devices, you’ll have a single device that can be used for visually impaired, and non-visually impaired people, which could once more decrease the stigmatization a little. It offers functionality for both, and it can be adapted to react differently depending on the user, in the sense that people with full sight need less feedback, but can for example still use it to simulate the feeling of a keyboard or other things, while more visually impaired people can use the functionality in a broader way.

If you can think of other applications for this type of screen, or if you have a preference between this and the formable screens, let us know!


Raise awareness for blind people

The Norwegian Association of the Blind created some advertisement videos to create more awareness for blind people. They have two types of videos. One type is about the guided dog and the other type is about hiring blind people. In total there are six different advertisements.

Guided dog

Hiring blind people

Do you think that they also should do something like this in Belgium or your own country? Do you have any other examples of creating awareness for blind people? With the upcoming federal elections in Belgium and the European elections in May, do you think that the different parties should include ‘disabled people’ in their agenda?


The other advertisements.

Braille e-book

Nowadays, you will think that everyone has easy access to a good book. But you’re wrong, for a part of the population, it is not so easy to find a book to read, let alone to find a good book. For blind people who read in braille, the amount of books translated in braille is very limited. With the technology these days you will think that it should not be difficult to make a braille e-reader, that translates books very easily, when they already have braille smartphones. The problem is not that nobody thought of it, on the contrary, you can find some concepts, that date back from 2009, here and here.

So why can’t we find the braille e-readers yet? Because it is not profitable enough for companies to make it.

Do you think that there should be more invested in the development of such an e-reader? Will you sponsor someone who wants to buy such a device?



Cone cell gene therapy

Hi all!

We’ve written a post on color blindness before, but there’s still a lot to say, so here’s another one! In 2009, researchers at the University of Washington in Seattle developed a cure for color blindness in squirrel monkeys, that can also be possibly applicable to humans. They cured Daltonism, red-green color blindness, in the monkeys by injecting them with a virus that had the corrective gene for their defective cone cells (photoreceptors in the retina) as a payload.

Squirrel monkeys

Due to a large amount of time they spent training the monkeys to react to colors, they could finally determine that they were as a matter of fact aware of colors, as opposed to their actions before the treatment.

Wy is this so important though? Daltonism is by far the most occuring vision defect in humans, and it stems from similar defective cone cells. Considering about 5% of male humans suffers from it, a cure like this could make a huge difference once it is made available for humans. But it has even more potential than that. Many other human eye-diseases stem from problems with these same cone cells, and these diseases are the cause of partial -or complete- blindness. If it is possible to cure one cone cell disease by using gene therapy, solutions for these even more severe problems might come into range.

We are not there yet though, as the therapy is still in its testing phase for humans, and for that it has to go through the many legislative procedures required for testing medicines. Once that is done though, and if it is considered safe for humans, we can look forward to a very potent new weapon in humanity’s ever increase disease-combatting arsenal.

For more info, see this article from The Guardian, or go to the website of (one of the) authors!




Lechal means “take me there” in Hindi and that is exactly what these shoes do. They are designed to bring the (blind) person wearing it to their destination. It works like a gps but instead of using a voice, the shoes will guide the person wearing it with haptic feedback (simple vibrations), in this case making it an ideal aid next to the white cane.

One of our followers commented that if she were blind, she does not want to point that out to the rest of the world in order to not get a special treatment or that people will pity her. Do you think that these shoes will be a good solution for that problem?And will this technology eventually be able to replace the white cane?