Optical radar could bring sight to the blind

1 min read

Students at Ben-Gurion University in Israel have developed an optical radar system that helps blind people manoeuvre around obstacles.

Developed by two engineering students, Elad Kuperberg and Einav Tasa, under the supervision of Prof Shlomi Arnon, the system was demonstrated for the for the first time last week.

Prof Arnon told The Engineer that the assistive technology incorporates two subsystems: a pair of glass with two video cameras and scanning light source; and a processing unit that is currently the size of a laptop.

The system detects obstacles – including those overhead, like low-hanging branches on trees and even street signs – by scanning the depth of its surroundings, taken from two different angles. An audible alert is sounded if an obstacle is detected.

Ben-Gurion University estimates the number of vision-impaired people worldwide at between 40 and 45 million. Many types of assistance aids, such as guide dogs and sticks equipped with sensors are available to help the blind avoid obstacles so they can move around with more independence.

‘A [guide] dog needs extensive and expensive training, and can only work for an average of seven years. There is also a severe shortage of guide dogs,’ said Prof Arnon. ‘Additionally, the sensor sticks cannot identify barriers above floor level and their use requires many skills. All of these systems restrict the use of one hand.

’This optical radar device is not only user friendly, but unlike the other solutions it allows the blind to have the use of both of their hands.’

Prof Arnon told The Engineer that the next step for the optical radar is to miniaturise the processing subsystem into a compact, iPod sized device.