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New app uses vibration to build a virtual cane for the blind

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Most apps for the visually impaired rely on audio to fill the gap, but a new app discovered by Technology Review takes a different approach, using haptic feedback to simulate the sensation of touch you would get from a lightweight cane. To work, the system requires buildings to be outfitted with colored tape on the floor and potentially even QR codes to send information on the surrounding area.

Once inside the building, impaired users would point their phone's camera at the ground, and feel a buzz through the phone every time the phone moves across the line. Through the vibrations, users would be able to feel the location of the line through their hands, offering a kind of tactile augmented reality. The app was created by developers at the University of Palermo in Italy, who tested it out in December at a workshop in Boston and say it's working exactly as hoped. According to the developers, the next step is to use infrared triggers rather than simple tape, tapping into smartphones' underused IR sensitivity.