Imagine being able to see your surroundings with just a wave of your hand. That is the vision of Jakob Kilian, a designer who is working on a glove that he hopes will let the blind \"see\" their surroundings.
The glove, called BlindSight, uses a depth camera and a grid of haptic actuators on the back of the hand to translate visual information into tactile feedback. The user can point the camera at different objects and feel their shape, size, distance and orientation on their hand. The glove also has a voice assistant that can provide additional information such as color, text or labels.
Kilian was inspired by the phenomenon of sensory substitution, where the brain can map one sense to another. For example, some blind people can use echolocation to navigate by making clicking sounds and listening to the echoes. Kilian wanted to create a device that could leverage the brain's plasticity and provide a more intuitive and natural way of perceiving the world.
\"I wanted to create something that is not just a tool, but an extension of the body,\" Kilian said. \"Something that feels like a sixth sense.\"
Kilian is not the only one who is exploring the possibility of giving sight to the blind with technology. Researchers have been developing various methods of stimulating the visual cortex of the brain directly with electrodes or implants, bypassing the eyes altogether. However, these methods are still invasive, expensive and experimental.
Kilian hopes that his glove will be a more accessible and affordable alternative that can improve the quality of life of blind people. He has been testing his prototype with blind volunteers and getting positive feedback. He plans to refine his design and make it more compact and comfortable.
\"My goal is to make something that is not only functional, but also beautiful and elegant,\" Kilian said. \"Something that blind people can be proud of wearing.\"
The Unfolding Space Glove is the result of a four-year design research project by Kilian, who collaborated with the ZEISS Vision Science Laboratory at the University of TÃbingen and the KÃln International School of Design. The project was funded by the German Federal Ministry of Education and Research and was one of the finalists of the 2019 Hackaday Prize.
The glove consists of a 3D camera, a microcontroller, a battery pack and a custom-made carrier board that connects 16 vibration motors on the back of the hand. The glove uses an open source software that processes the depth image from the camera and maps it to the vibration motors. The user can adjust the sensitivity and range of the device with a voice assistant that also provides auditory feedback.
The glove is designed to be worn on the dominant hand and used in conjunction with a white cane or a guide dog on the other hand. The user can point the camera at different directions and feel the spatial layout of their environment on their hand. The glove can also detect obstacles above waist level, such as branches or signs, that are usually missed by other mobility aids.
Kilian conducted an empirical study with 14 sighted and blind participants to evaluate the usability and effectiveness of his prototype. The participants completed structured training and obstacle courses with both the glove and a white cane. The results showed that the participants quickly learned how to use the glove and successfully completed all of the trials, though still being slower with it than with the cane. The participants also reported a high level of satisfaction and enjoyment with the device.
Kilian acknowledges that his prototype is still a proof-of-concept and not a fully functional navigation aid. He plans to improve his design by making it more ergonomic, robust and aesthetically pleasing. He also hopes to conduct more studies with blind users in real-world scenarios and to explore other applications of his device, such as education, art or gaming.
\"I believe that sensory substitution has a great potential to enrich the lives of blind people,\" Kilian said. \"I hope that my project can inspire others to join me in this endeavor.\" aa16f39245