Innovation That Matters

App helps the blind to navigate their way around buildings

Sport & Fitness

GPS-like smartphone app Navatar combines existing smartphone hardware with bespoke technology to guide the visually-impaired through complicated environments.

There has been a concerted effort recently to ensure that less abled people can still take advantage of new technologies such as touchscreens, with one example being student Adam Duran’s Braille-writing software. Now a GPS-like smartphone app called Navatar aims to make it easier for blind people to navigate their way around buildings. Being developed by Kostas Bekris and Eelke Folmer, of the Computer Science Engineering Human-Computer Interaction Lab at University of Nevada, Reno, the system relies on digital 2-D architectural maps of the space — which already exist for most buildings or can be produced — as well as the accelerometer and compass functions of a smartphone. Using “sophisticated localization algorithms” from the field of robotics, the Navater app is able to detect where the user is in the building. Tests of the device have found that it can pinpoint users’ locations to within a range of 1.85 meters. It then relies on the smartphone to tell it how many steps have been taken and in which direction in order to detect user location in real-time. Since the system has been developed for those with sight difficulties, the app reads out instructions, much like existing automotive navigation devices, and can be used with headphones so users’ hands are still free to use a walking cane or to feel for landmarks such as doors or corners. The video below shows the device in action: The developers of Navatar hope to improve the system before making it available to the public. One to get involved in?



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