Smartphones have already proven their worth as navigation devices for sighted people but a new concept aims to go even further for the vision impaired. Dubbed blinput, the system would allow visually impaired people to not only find their way around, but also interact with the connected world using the smartphone’s camera to gather context relevant information that would then be relayed to the user through a pair of headphones.

The blinput system would see a visually impaired person wearing a smartphone around their neck with the camera facing out and a pair of headphones that would produce audio in 3D. With sound being an even more important sense for the visually impaired, these would be open headphones to allow ambient noise to be heard.

To navigate the system’s controls the user would hold their hand in front of the phone’s camera and scroll through options, which are read out to them, by moving their hand up or down and select options with a pinch of their fingers. This simple user interface would not only allow them to get directions, but would also allow them to interact with devices such as vending or ticket machines that are embedded with RFID or Bluetooth.

Additionally, the concept envisages stores installing beacons to allow visually impaired shoppers to easily find items. Once the user has found their way to the desired product range they can then identify specific products by holding up the item’s barcode to the smartphone camera.

Because all the context specific information is stored on the blinput servers and not the phone itself, users are also able to make their own posts for others or listen to other’s location-specific posts pointing out things such as potential obstacles or points of interest.

The system can also alert the users to when friends are nearby and direct them in that direction using 3D audio. The system would then use facial recognition to analyze the person’s emotions and translate this into a particular pattern of vibration – one pattern for happy and another for sad, for example.

Although the blinput system, which is the brainchild of Norwegian designer Erik Hals, is still in its early stages and would require some cash investment to be developed further, most of the technology required already exists. In fact, one of the biggest current obstacles would be finding batteries capable of keeping the smartphone camera on for extended periods. Still, it might not be long before such a system becomes a valuable tool for the visually impaired.

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