Navigation and wayfinding are difficult tasks for blind or visually impaired pedestrians. A long cane and maybe a guide dog are the helping companions for avoiding obstacles on the way. Gross navigation, i.e., the task to find the way from one point to another can only partly be achieved by this support. With the advent of positioning and navigation systems, electronic navigation aids for the blind have been proposed. However, the existing speech-based systems use the most relevant modality of blind persons, the ears, and do not allow a non-intrusive navigation support. Haptic approaches which provide continuously and non-intrusively navigation information and which are suitable for blind people do not exist. A major challenge for such a system is to present not only directional cues for specific points of interests, but rather to keep a blind or visually impaired person on track of the route during the whole navigation process. In this paper, we present an approach of a somatosensory navigation support that uses three vibrators to provide a pedestrian continuously and non-obtrusively with information about the way, deviations from the path, and directions. Controlled by a PDA and based on the input of a GPS receiver and a digital compass, the lightweight prototype delivers vibration signals of different intensity to the upper arms and the back. Additional, infrequent speech commands support the wayfinding task. Our first tests are promising and we plan a revised version of the prototype that further reduces the necessary hardware and also include additional interaction and information patterns.
05 / 2006
ENABLED Enhanced Network Accessibility for the Blind and Visually Impaired