Credit: VTT Technical Research Centre
VTT Technical Research Centre of Finland has built a wearable assistive device for the visually impaired, which enables them to sense their environment as well as move around more safely. The device is designed to be worn like a heart rate monitor, and has been clinically tested. The device operates on the basis of a radar system created by VTT.
The novel aspect lies in wearable sensor device which functions based on radio waves, so that the signal passes through normal clothing. This means that it can be worn discreetly under a coat, for example.
Tero Kiuru, Senior Scientist at VTT
The radar transmits information to the user in the form of voice feedback or vibrations. It senses most obstacles in the user's surroundings, however there are still a few difficulties in sensing objects such as bushes and thin branches.
The radar has been clinically tested in device trials that were approved by the National Supervisory Authority for Welfare and Health (Valvira), in which VTT's collaborators were Kuopio University Hospital and the Finnish Federation of the Visually Impaired (FFVI). The test group consisted of a total of 25 visually impaired people, of whom 14 were blind, seven partially sighted and four were deaf-blind.
A clear majority of the testers felt that the radar improved their ability to perceive their environment and increased their self-confidence when moving around.
Kiuru , Senior Scientist at VTT
Upon using the device, a total of 92% of the trial users felt that it helped them to sense their surroundings, 80% felt that their trust in their ability to move around alone had increased, and 32% stated that would start using the test device in its present form immediately.
However, they were not satisfied with vibration-based feedback and distance control.
The research will carry on with selected test users, and further development on the device will be continued.
It is believed that there is a global market for the radar as there are about 300 million visually impaired people in the world.