Autonomous vehicles promise to make it much easier for the blind and visually impaired to get around by car, but Toyota is looking to extend the advantages provided by the technology to when they get out of the car. The automaker is developing a wearable device that can take in the user's surroundings and relay information to them via audio and vibration cues.
Being developed through Toyota's Project Blaid, the device looks a like a slightly deformed toilet seat and is designed to be worn around the neck. Rather than replacing existing aids, such as canes, guide dogs and basic GPS devices, the Blaid device is intended to complement them by giving users more information about their surrounding environment.
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Unlike the prototype headset from Microsoft we looked at a couple of years ago, which relied on GPS, annotated maps and a network of wireless beacons, Toyota's device uses inbuilt cameras to detect its surroundings and "recognize" common indoor features, such as restrooms, signs, escalators, stairs and doors. Users can request the location of specific features by buttons or voice control, with the information communicated to the wearer via audio cues or vibrations.
The development team is asking company employees to submit videos of common indoor features to help them better teach the device to recognize such landmarks. However, the plan is to also integrate mapping, object identification and facial recognition technologies into the device in the future.
"We believe we have a role to play in addressing mobility challenges, including helping people with limited mobility do more," says Doug Moore, Manager of Partner Robotics at Toyota. "We believe this project has the potential to enrich the lives of people who are blind and visually impaired."
An early-stage device prototype can be seen in the video below.