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New Technologies Help Vision-Impaired Pedestrians Find Their Way

The Federal Highway’s Administration’s (FHWA’s) Exploratory Advanced Research (EAR) Program began research on "Intelligent Situation Awareness and Navigation Aid for Visually Impaired Persons" to develop an assistive system for blind and severely visually impaired citizens to navigate and travel independently. Phase I of the research explored and developed situation awareness and assistive navigation technologies to provide blind or visually impaired people with obstacle avoidance and intelligent wayfinding capabilities in indoor environments by enabling them to use wearable sensors such as cameras, three-dimensional orientation sensors, and pedometers. In Phase II, the researchers will extend the research to outdoor pedestrian environments to provide blind users with waypoint navigation, path planning, and advanced warning of special events, such as detours and hazards, through interaction with global positioning systems, geographic information systems, and intelligent transportation systems infrastructure.

A combination of graphics and photo images illustrating the human-centric assistive navigation system architecture. It is displayed in boxes and circles.  The first column of the graphics is labeled “WEARABLE SENSORS” with six boxes under it displaying in text and graphics: “Camera Glass,” “RGB-D sensor,” Inertial Measurement Unit,” Pedometer,” “GPS,” and “Other sensors, etc.” The middle of the graphics shows a large blue circle with the text “Geographic Information System (GIS) Accessibility Database” followed under it by the text “WLAN” and the WiFi symbol. Beside the first large blue circle is another large blue circle with the text “Intelligent Transportation System (ITS)” followed under it by the text “Dedicated Short Range Communication (DSRC).” There is a signal symbol which connects to a small antenna graphic contained in a large pink circle labeled “Mobile Computing Device” with the sub-boxes labeled “Software Modules,” Situation Awareness,” “Human-centric SLAM,” and “Output,” <space>” Human Interface,”<space> “Input.” The last column is labeled “FEEDBACK DEVICES” and is followed under it by three boxes with text and images for “Vision Display (for Low Vision),” “Bone Headphones,” “Vibro-tactile Device,” and “Other devices, etc.” The final category is labeled “COMMAND INPUT” followed under it by two boxes labeled “Microphone,” and “Keypad, gestures, other inputs, etc.” The boxes in the four columns have red arrows pointing to or from the next column.
Figure 1: System Architecture for the FHWA Exploratory Advanced Research project.

One of the Principle Investigators, Zhigang Zhu, for an FHWA Exploratory Advanced Research (EAR) Program sponsored-project on "Intelligent Situation Awareness and Navigation Aid for Visually Impaired Persons" was recognized.  In May 2013 during the President's awards, The City College of New York presented Professor Zhu with the President’s Award for Excellence.

This image is a combination of one large photo to the left showing a man standing with a wearable camera with a dog on a leash outside a closed interior door, followed by four smaller photos to the top right of the larger photo of a door in each photo with a different sign on each door. The signs reads “LABORATORY Potential Hazardous Substances—NO SMOKING,” “male toilet” with the symbol of a man on a sign just below it, “exit,” and the last signs has room and stair number information. These signs are followed under it by four text extraction of the signs, followed under it by four blue boxes with text inside each box showing signage recognition.
Figure 2. Preliminary results of door detection and signage recognition using a wearable camera.

Dr. Zhu serves as an advisory board member and has significantly contributed to the research, development, and education of this multidisciplinary research.  Professor YingLi Tian is the principle investigator of the EAR project and Mohammed Yousuf of FHWA is the Project Director.

For more information about the research, contact Mohammed Yousuf, 202-493-3199, mohammed.yousuf@dot.gov. For more information about the EAR Program, contact David Kuehn, 202-493-3414, david.kuehn@dot.gov.



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