Student-designed system could allow the blind to play table tennis
Table tennis is one of those sports that most people would likely assume is simply unplayable by the blind. An Australian student, however, is now using cameras and speakers to get unsighted individuals in on the ping pong action.
First of all, there are already two games for the blind (namely Swish and Showdown) which are similar to table tennis, but involve whacking a jingling ball back and forth along the surface of a table. In that sense, they're almost more like air hockey.
Playing regular table tennis with a special ball that beeps (or makes other sounds) is another possibility, although such electronics-filled balls wouldn't perform like their much lighter conventional counterparts.
It was with such limitations in mind that University of Sydney engineering honors student Phoebe Peng – working with U Sydney spinoff company ARIA Research – created her experimental new system.
The setup incorporates a traditional table, paddles and ball, along with an array of speakers along the sides of the table, and two neuromorphic cameras. Also known as event cameras, the latter track the movement of objects within their field of view via local changes in brightness, which are detected by individual pixels on the image sensor.
By combining the output of both cameras, it's possible to track the position of the ball in three-dimensional space, in real time. A special algorithm uses that data to control the speakers, causing them to produce a sound field matching the current position of the ball.
The idea is that both players simply listen for the position of the ball, as emitted by the speakers. That said, more research needs to be conducted before the system is made available for real-world use.
"An ongoing technical challenge is the matter of human perception of sound," said Peng. "There are limitations on how accurately people can perceive sound localization. What type of sound should be used? Should the sound be continuous? This is a technical challenge we’ll be tackling in the next stage of development."
Peng presented her research this Wednesday (Dec. 6th) at the Acoustics 2023 Sydney conference.