ROBOTS need help navigating their surroundings and sophisticated location systems to keep track of their position. Now the same technologies are being adapted to help blind people navigate indoor and outdoor spaces independently.
One such system, being developed by Edwige Pissaloux and colleagues at the Institute of Intelligent Systems and Robotics at the Pierre and Marie Curie University in Paris, France, consists of a pair of glasses equipped with cameras and sensors like those used in robot exploration. The system, unveiled at a talk at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology this month, produces a 3D map of the wearer’s environment and their position within it that is constantly updated and displayed in a simplified form on a handheld electronic Braille device. It could eventually allow blind people to make their way, unaided, wherever they want to go, says Pissaloux. “Navigation for me means not only being able to move around by avoiding nearby obstacles, but also to understand how the space is socially organised – for example, where you are in relation to the pharmacy, library or intersection,” she says.