Extra_Credit_2 Helping the Blind By Gaurav Bansal

Another lecture from the Science and Art Symposium I attended was Using Audio Cues to Enhance Navigation and Spatial Learning for the Blind by James Marston. I thought this was very interesting science it was technologically oriented. Also, I personally believe being blind is the worst amongst the three major senses someone can lose: sight, hearing, and speech. Marston brought up many statistics related to blind people, some of the more shocking ones are that 30% of blind people don’t leave home and 70% of them are unemployed.

He was very interested in cognitive maps, specifically related to a common environment with landmarks and routes. A blind person can cross a path they have previously been to before and never know it, thus being unable to produce a mental map of there surroundings.

To help the blind get a sense of their surroundings, Marston discussed UCSB’s Personal Guidance System (PGS). This system requires a spatial database to be compiled, as well as headphones and a GPS unit. This virtual sound method will project objects by name in the direction where it is. For example, if there is a bus stop to your right, you will hear the work bus stop to your right. To me it seems like it would drive someone crazy to hear every object around them, but I believe a future system will have customizable options.


A great example of a virtual sound is the following link, this doesn’t apply to helping blind people, but it shows the concept very well; be sure to use headphones.


Marston has also explored other similar methods such as having a sound bee when you are walking in the right direction. He conducted many experiments with this concept. He took a few volunteers and setup a complicated path through a city and out in a field. By following the beeps, they were able to complete the course without a problem. Many of the users said that they would be more willing to go out if this system was in place. However there are many issued for a commercial system.

The system heavily relies on GPS; however GPS resolution is a big problem. Currently, the civilian GPS has an accuracy of around 3 meters. For sighted people, this is fine since it will get you close enough. However, for a blind person, 3 meters can be the difference between the sidewalk and the middle of the road. Also the cost and time to setup a fully define spatial database is very large.

This is a very ambitious project but I think it will be a long time before the public will see real use out of it.

By Gaurav Bansal

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