Researchers at the University of Georgia have developed a wearable AI-powered engine that may help visually impaired people navigate around the world. Housed in a backpack, the system can detect traffic lights, intersecting lanes, restrictions and other common challenges, using a camera placed inside a jacket. Users receive voice prompts and alerts from a Bluetooth-enabled headset, while the battery provides around eight hours of power.
Intel, which provided the processing power for the prototype device, says this bag is superior to other high-tech visual assistance programs, which lack the depth perception needed to facilitate autonomous navigation.
Jagadish Mahindran, an AI developer at the Institute of Artificial Intelligence at the University of Georgia, was inspired to create the system from a colleague with poor eyesight.
He said, I was amazed by the paradox, while I was teaching robots how to see, there are a lot of people who can't see and need help.
Using the AI suite of OpenCV, Mahindran developed a program that runs on a laptop small enough to store in a backpack, linked to Luxonis OAK-D spatial cameras attached to a vest that provide information about obstacles.
Mahindran and his team have trained AI to recognize different terrains, such as sidewalks and grass, and challenges that range from cars and bikes to road signs and hanging low branches. Messages are delivered from the system via a Bluetooth headset, while commands can be given via a connected microphone.
Mahindran said making the product relatively lightweight and not overly cumbersome is critical.
Without Neural computing technology from Intel and Movedius own processor, the wearer would have had to carry five GPUs in their backpack, each weighing a quarter of a pound, plus the additional weight of the necessary fans and the largest power supply.
He said, it would be very expensive and impractical for users.
But with the added processing facility, this massive GPU capacity is compressed into a device the size of a USB stick, so you can plug it anywhere so you can run these complex and deep learning models. It's portable, cheap, and has a very simple form factor.
The invention won the grand prize in the 2020 OpenCV Spatial AI Competition, sponsored by Intel.
Hema Shamraj, Intel's AI4Good Program Manager said, it's amazing to see a developer take AI technology from Intel and quickly build a solution to make his friend's life easier. The technology is there; We are only limited by the imagination of the developer community.
While the device is not yet available for sale, Mahindran ships a bag to his visually impaired friend within a few weeks so he can get his feedback after trying the bag realistically.
Can the bag replace the guide dog? Mahindran is confident his invention works better at communicating challenges to the user, but he said that, you definitely can't hug or play with the engine.
Worldwide, about 285 million people have low vision, according to the World Health Organization, and tech companies are increasingly investing in providing solutions. Google was testing Project Guideline, a new app that would allow blind people to work on their own without a guide dog or human assistant. Project Guideline is still in the prototype stage, and was developed in a Google Hackathon last year after Thomas Bannek, CEO of Guiding Eyes For The Blind, asked developers to design a program that would allow him to jog freely.
After a few months and some adjustments, he was able to make laps on an indoor track without assistance.
Panek said, it was my first undirected mile in decades.
Last spring, Google unveiled a virtual keyboard that allows visually impaired people to type letters and emails without additional equipment. The Talkback braille keyboard integrated directly into Android uses a six-key layout, with each key representing one of six braille dots. When clicked in the correct sequence, keys can type any letter or symbol.
Google said in an April post, it's a fast and convenient way to write on your phone without any additional devices, whether you are posting to social media, responding to a text, or writing a brief email.