Glasses with cameras and other sensors more commonly found in robots could soon be used to help the blind navigate, using a tactile display to create a three-dimensional braille map of the person's surroundings. It's the idea of Professor Edwige Pissaloux, a researcher at Institut des Systèmes Intelligents et de Robotique (ISIR) in Paris, which is also home to one of the teams contributing to the child-like robot iCub.
The concept was presented at MIT last month, where Prof. Pissaloux demonstrated the innovative display that uses memory alloy springs to create shapes on the display rather than clamping actuators. She also showed a pair of the glasses, which incorporate a pair of cameras and a variety of other sensors to create a three-dimensional image of the world around the user. This image is then processed to determine what's important, and presented on the display as hazards and objects to allow the user to navigate safely. As she told New Scientist, "navigation for me means not only being able to move around by avoiding nearby obstacles, but also to understand how the space is socially organised - for example, where you are in relation to the pharmacy, library or intersection."
As with all research, it's some way off from availability to the sight impaired. However, it's a far more feasible system than NSK's robotic guide dog, and could make a huge difference to people's independence.