Author – Sudha Kamada
We have all played the game pin-the-tail-on-the-donkey – spinning around and trying to find someone while blindfolded, but imagine those who have to go through that situation on a daily basis. Lives of the blind, forever immersed in darkness, is never easy, especially when they have to adjust to things that come into their paths, always wondering if every step might be a wrong one that could land them in the hospital. Sure enough, having a seeing-eye or guide dog is a wonderful addition to their daily commute, but while having a companion is certainly enjoyable as well as soothing for the soul, every individual seeks independence, not wanting to be leaning on someone all the time. Here are some interesting innovations created by Indian innovators that can help the visually impaired manage with their lives:
Bringing us a step closer, to helping the visually challenged get closer to this aim, is the invention of the “Smart Cane”, a low-cost smart technology developed in India to provide independent mobility for blind people. It is a home-grown, affordable electronic device for the visually impaired. Rohan Paul, a Rhodes-Oxford & IIT scholar developed SmartCane in Assistech, a lab of IIT-Delhi that focuses on developing affordable technology for the visually impaired. He let go of many lucrative opportunities abroad and chose to develop the product in an Indian laboratory and launch his invention in India. His innovation was initially supported by Media Lab Asia, in collaboration with Phoenix Medical Systems, Chennai and Saksham Trust, Delhi, an NGO working for the visually impaired.
While the usual white walking stick is useful for the blind, it is poor at detecting obstacles that are above waist height and have no touch-point on the ground (tree branches sticking into your path). The SmartCane tackles this problem as it sends out ultrasound waves via a device attached to a standard white cane, detects them on their return, and uses vibrations to inform users of any obstacles in their way. Users can find out the distance of the object obstructing their path, as far as three meters away, through differing vibration patterns and intensities.
SmartCane’s ultrasound scanning of 45 degree span above the knee is its most important benefit. As people move the cane from left to right, vibrations detected on one side mean they should move towards it. This is an effective obstacle detection and warning system, whereby the presence of obstacles is conveyed by easily perceived vibration patterns. It is available for a price of Rs.3000.
Talking Stick for the Blind
Wazeer Hayath of Tumkur, Karnataka created a patented device, consisting of a walking stick, a sensor system and audio alarm alert facility, that assists visually challenged persons and reduce the chance of accidents. This device is provided with chargeable batteries (50 hr backup) that provide power to a sensor-based in-built voice record system with a choice of 28 Indian languages. It also alerts the user about any obstruction or pit-holes that are more than an inch high or depression greater than a foot within a diameter of one meter from the tip. If the blind person is passing through a crowd, he can press the toggle switch and a voice alert – “Excuse Me Side Please” – will be given to the public, requesting people in the vicinity to move away.
The walking stick also has a light provision to alert the people about the movement of the visually-impaired user. It also gives an alert “water /mud, careful”. With the help of moisture and depth sensors at its tip, this lightweight, 48-inch stick alerts users if they are stepping into water or into a pit, or if any vehicle is approaching. For the hearing impaired, a vibration system is provided along with the voice system. Three variants of the stick are available, namely, talking folding stick, sensor-based folding automatic stick and double sensor-based talking folding stick. Prices range from Rs.900 to Rs.2400.
Third Eye – Tellmate
Gunjan Gupta, Romil Shah and Sagar Patel, under the guidance of Prof. Sachin Gajjar, Associate Professor in Electronics and Communication Engineering, developed the ‘Third Eye – Tellmate’ at the Nirma University’s Idea Lab. This idea found its genesis when they visited the Andhajan Mandal (an association that works with visually-impaired people) in Ahmedabad.
Tellmate is a text-to-speech, facial recognition and image-to-sound converter device that aids the visually impaired. The “third eye” device is Braille-independent and converts raw map data into electronic neural signal which aids in the perception of visual data, apart from various case-specific uses to solve problems faced by the visually impaired. The device consists of a webcam, headphone, micro-processor circuit and a remote that uses audio and video communications to help the blind navigate their way.
Tellmate includes a pair of glasses that processes images in front of a visually impaired person, converts these images to sound and feeds it to the user in an audio format using hearing aids. With the help of this device, the users can walk around unfamiliar places and avoid obstacles. The device’s remote will be with the user at all times, along with several compact receivers that can be attached to daily-use objects like house keys, walking stick etc. A customized voice reminder will help the client remember which receiver he has placed near which object.
Users can also use bus transportation by stating commands such as “navigate to airport” and they will receive vocal directions to go to the bus stop as well as information on which bus would take them to their destination. They will receive an alert asking the user to board the right bus when it arrives, based on pre-stored bus data & matches with the speech processed directions. Tellmate allows visually impaired individuals to read text through text-to-speech conversion via hearing aids.
Tellmate will be useful for blind people, untreatable partially visually impaired people and temporarily blind people. It is available through voluntary organisations, NGOs, eye hospitals, rehabilitation centres, government institutes for visually impaired people. The team underwent an accelerator program for developing Tellmate as a commercially-viable product at the Centre for Innovation Incubation and Entrepreneurship at IIM Ahmedabad. After that, the team entered the go-to-market phase and received a development grant of Rs.2,00,00. They were ranked in Top 20 of the Intel DST–Innovate for Digital India Challenge and were one of the winners at The Economic Times – Power of Ideas 2015 .