Feeling the way: Robotic device can help visually impaired people
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Date posted: 24/11/2009
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For many people, it has become routine to go online to check out a map before traveling to a new place. But for blind people, Google maps and other visual mapping applications are of little use. Now, a unique device developed at MIT could give the visually impaired the same kind of benefit that sighted people get from online maps.

The BlindAid system, developed in MIT?s Touch Lab, allows blind people to ?feel? their way around a virtual model of a room or building, familiarizing themselves with it before going there.

Mandayam Srinivasan, director of the Touch Lab and affiliated with the Research Laboratory of Electronics and the Department of Mechanical Engineering, is working with the Carroll Center for the Blind in Newton, Mass., to develop and test the device. Preliminary results show that when blind people have the chance to preview a virtual model of a room, they have an easier time navigating their way around the actual room later on.

That advantage could be invaluable for the visually impaired, says Joseph Kolb, a mobility instructor at the Carroll Center. He notes that one of the toughest challenges a visually impaired person faces is entering an unfamiliar environment with no human or dog to offer guidance.

?You don?t know where you are, you don?t know what?s around you, and there may or may not be people around to help you,? he says.

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