Electronic aids that help blind and partially sighted people navigate and interact with their environment - such as ultrasound canes and voice-enabled GPS devices - are becoming more widely available. But a new device could take such interaction to the next level.
George Stetten, a bioengineer at the University of Pittsburgh, has come up with the idea of a tiny video camera that sits at the end of a finger (see image) and connects to a portable computer that can analyse the footage and flag up objects of interest.
The camera mounting could also vibrate to provide physical feedback from the computer to signal it has seen something significant. A warning could be given when the camera spots a nearby obstacle, like a wall or the edge of a table, and it could even trace out the shape to guide the user past.
Image processing makes it possible for the system to recognise very specific objects. Stetten's patent says that, amongst other things, the computer could recognise light switches or other controls from a distance. The user could be steered towards a switch using physical feedback, or given the option to activate it remotely.
The capabilities of such a system are limited only by imagination, says Stetten, and has the potential to give blind and partially sighted people much greater control and interaction with the world around them. In fact, a portable system able to look for objects for you could offer benefits to fully sighted people too.