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White Cane For The Blind Reinvented As A Vibrating App

Greek myth inspires a new way for the visually impaired to navigate with their smartphone.

Ross Brooks
Ross Brooks on January 9, 2014. @greenidealism

Smartphones and tablets might seem like technology that’s out of reach from blind and visually-impaired people, but that couldn’t be farther from the truth. There is a plethora of apps available to help the visually-impaired access information, the latest of which acts like a cane to offer navigational assistance without any form of audio distraction, or the need for GPS.

The app is called Arianna, which was developed by Pierluigi Gallo and friends at the University of Palermo in Italy, and uses a simple but ingenious idea. Various paths are mapped out through a building with colored tape on the ground, which the smartphone camera picks up as the user waves the phone back and forth. When the line passes under the user’s finger on the screen, the the smartphone will vibrate to provide a tactile indication of where the line falls.

Arianna-app-for-blind-and-visually-impaired

Gallo and his team were inspired by the Greek myth of Ariadne and Theseus, in which Theseus volunteers to kill the Minotaur which lives in a labyrinth on the island of Crete. To help him, Ariadne gives him a sword to kill the beast and a ball of thread to help him find his way out when the deed is done.

The app has lots of potential for upgrades as well, for example QR codes could be placed on the ground to provide users with other information such as where the toilets, water coolers, and shops are located. Another idea the team has thought of is using infrared lines in place of tape so that they are not visible, but can still be picked up by infrared-sensitive smartphone cameras.

Compared with devices that have to be specially-designed and manufactured, and are often expensive; smartphones provide a suite of features that can be customized to create useful apps and aids for the visually impaired.

Source: MIT Technology Review

Images: MIT Technology ReviewBraille Institute

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Ross is a freelance writer who specializes in topics about the environment, architecture, art, design and creative tech. He is passionate about making a difference with his writing, whether that’s to encourage social change, promote a great idea, or just share a little bit of beauty with the world. You can also find his work on Inhabitat and Techly.com.au.

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