A study finds that a new device may help the visually impaired avoid blindness and low vision
A study suggests that vibrating bracelets can help the visually impaired avoid collisions when out and about.
According to the NHSIn the UK alone, around 360,000 people have been registered as blind or visually impaired, with long canes and guide dogs among the methods used to help individuals avoid obstacles.
Researchers in the US have now developed a technological aid: a video camera attached to the chest – linked to a processing unit that includes a computer vision algorithm – and a pair of vibrating bracelets.
When the system detects a hazard that the wearer is set to collide with, the wristband on the same side as the hazard vibrates. If the obstacle is directly in front of you, both bracelets vibrate.
The researchers said the device was not designed to replace canes or guide dogs, but rather to provide additional benefits, including helping the wearer avoid hazards above ground level.
Writing in the journal Gamma OthamologyIn this study, researchers report that a study of 368 hours of walking video data from 31 blind or visually impaired participants indicates that this approach may be beneficial.
After a period of training, each participant used the system for approximately four weeks, in addition to the stick or guide dog. During this time, the system switched without warning between the “active” mode – during which the bracelet vibrated when a danger was detected – and the “silent” mode, where it did not.
The researchers then analyzed the data to see if the rate of contacts between the user’s body or the sugar cane and objects identified by the system differed between the two scenarios.
When they looked at a random sample of each participant’s collision warnings, they found that these communications decreased by 37% when the system was in active mode, taking into account factors including the participants’ level of visual acuity.
Shrinivas Pundlik, a study co-author from the Massachusetts Eye and Ear Hospital, said.
However, the authors note that the study has limitations, including that the device may not have detected all of the potential risks.
Robin Spinks, leader of the Royal National Institute of the Blind for Innovation Partnerships, who was not involved in the work, welcomed the study, noting that unlike other options available, the system only warns against approaching obstacles that pose a collision risk.
“Smart wearable technology offers tremendous potential for the blind and visually impaired to be able to get out and move around independently, and of course, being able to avoid obstacles and collisions is a really important part of that,” he said.