Prototype system developed by Wright State computer engineer allows blind to 'see'

03/18/04

Researchers at Wright State University have developed a prototype device to help blind individuals "see."

Nikolaos Bourbakis, Ph.D., Ohio Board of Regents Distinguished Professor of Information Technology at Wright State's College of Engineering and Computer Science is the principal investigator. The project is a cooperative venture with Arizona State University (ASU).

"Our object is to develop intelligent assistants that can help blind and visually impaired individuals efficiently conduct daily tasks, such as reading a book or newspaper and efficiently accessing the Web and participating in classes," explained Bourbakis, who has been involved in computer engineering eye research for 20 years.

Tyflos, the Greek word for blind, is the name of the portable, wearable device Bourbakis has developed. The partnering project at ASU is called iLearn. A tiny camera is mounted to glasses and connected by a thin wire to a modified lap-top computer the individual carries on his or her back. The Tyflos system operates by identifying the images "seen" by the camera and converting this to audio information the subject hears from small wires connected from the backpack to the ear. A small microphone is attached for receiving commands or requests from the user.

Bourbakis, who started on this project in 1995, plans to work with the WSU Office of Disability Services to test the device's capabilities on visually impaired students. In addition, he is working on an extension of the Tyflos system that enables blind individuals to independently navigate their working and living environments. Two future extensions of the Tyflos system will offer writing and drawing assistance that will enable the visually impaired to visually express their artistic talent beyond the usual levels.

"The Tyflos camera captures images from the surroundings, and the portable computer reconstructs the 3D space for motion detection, body tracing, face recognition and moving objects," explained Bourbakis, who also directs the Information Technology Research Institute and the Assistive Technology Research Laboratory at Wright State.

"This will make it possible for the blind and vision impaired to improve their independent mobility and social interaction, while succeeding in their professional endeavors. It is a great feeling for visually impaired people to make the first call in a conversation, like hi John, rather than waiting for somebody to talk to them. We are using state-of-the-art computer vision and robotics technology that will help the users tremendously in recognizing faces, objects, reading books, surfing the Web and safely navigating in dynamic environments."

He said the applications of the project are substantial, with an estimated 45 million blind individuals in the world, according to a World Health Report.

Funding for the project includes a $1.1 million National Science Foundation grant to ASU and Wright State. This was awarded last fall for four years.

Source: Eurekalert & others

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