ó Previously, when Chieko Asakawa navigated her way
across the Carnegie Mellon University campus, she used
her white cane to identify obstructions with her ears
alert to recognizable sounds and intuition in full power
to keep track of her location.
is blind. So the IBM fellow from Japan and visiting
faculty member at the universityís Robotics Institute
would count steps and use known landmarks to document
her progress. But if someone stopped to chat or bumped
into her, she lost her step count and became
have to always concentrate," she said. "For
us, you are always thinking how many steps to the next
turn and where you are. You canít walk while thinking
about other things. Itís very easy to get lost if you
are not careful."
this week, Asakawa walked with her long, white cane
through Newell-Simon Hall, including an elevator ride,
to an ATM machine in Ween Hall, with assistance from the
NavCog app downloaded onto her smartphone. Like a GPS
system it provided a voice that described distances,
what directions she was to turn and when she arrived at
landmarks and the ATM machine.
which she developed with help from Kris Kitani at
Carnegie Mellonís Robotics Institute and IBM, now is
available for free at the App Store downloads on iTunes.
It helps people with visual impairment to find their way
indoors and out. While still in pilot phase, the app and
its open-source technology allows others to advance the
technology and expand areas where it can be used.
uses Bluetooth sensors placed at turns, intersections
and important destinations (elevators, entrances or ATM
machines) to provide oneís position within 3 to 5 feet
of actual location. Using a map editing tool and
localization algorithms, it can identify your location
almost in real time, which direction you are facing and
additional information about your surroundings.
allows Asakawa, who holds a Ph.D. in engineering, to
walk unassisted through various buildings and sections
of the campus based on signals from 200 battery-powered
sensors. Thereís still the occasional bump, brush-by
or problem determining whether the elevator is going up
or down, but the campus system shows its potential.
visually impaired people like myself have become
independent online, we are still challenged in the real
world," she said, adding that the app can
accelerate research and serve as the basis for more
useful and expanded navigational system for people with
she and Kitani, a doctor of robotics, are testing a
small camera hung over her ear and using
emotion-recognition software to describe the emotional
state of people approaching her. In time,
computer-vision technology will compare previously
downloaded images of an area with ones generated in real
time by the smartphone to identify oneís location more
accurately without sensors.
R. Welch, president and CEO of the Pennsylvania
Association for the Blind, said people with visual
impairment already use GPS technology to provide their
general location outside. GPS cannot be used indoors.
Such technology has potential to improve the quality of
life of people with blindness, with self-driving cars
representing the Holy Grail.
been around since 1982, and I see what technology has
done for people to achieve independence. Itís just
been phenomenal and this is great for people with
disabilities," she said. "I really applaud
(the Carnegie Mellon-IBM team) for doing this. Anything
that can help people to be independent and more sure of
themselves, whether they are blind or sighted people in
unfamiliar places, is great."