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Low-cost open source ultrasound-sensing based navigational support for visually impaired
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Aliaksei L. Petsiuk and Joshua M. Pearce. Low-cost open source ultrasound-sensing based navigational support for visually impaired. (to be published) Preprint: https://www.preprints.org/manuscript/201907.0138/v1 DOI: 10.20944/preprints201907.0138.v1
Nineteen million Americans have significant vision loss. Over 70% of these are not employed full-time, and more than a quarter live below the poverty line. Globally, there are 36 million blind people, but less than half use white canes or more costly commercial sensory substitutions. The quality of life for visually impaired people is hampered by the resultant lack of independence. To help alleviate these challenges this study reports on the development of a low-cost (<$24), open-source navigational support system to allow people with the lost vision to navigate, orient themselves in their surroundings and avoid obstacles when moving. The system can be largely made with digitally distributed manufacturing using low-cost 3-D printing/milling. It conveys point-distance information by utilizing the natural active sensing approach and modulates measurements into haptic feedback with various vibration patterns within the distance range of 3 m. The developed system allows people with lost vision to solve the primary tasks of navigation, orientation, and obstacle detection (>20 cm stationary, moving up to 0.5 m/s) to ensure their safety and mobility. Sighted blindfolded participants successfully demonstrated the device for eight primary everyday navigation and guidance tasks including indoor and outdoor navigation and avoiding collisions with other pedestrians.
Motivation and project description
Nineteen million Americans have significant vision loss. Over 70% are not employed full-time, and more than a quarter live below the poverty line. Globally, there are 36 million blind people, but less than half use white canes or more costly commercial sensory substitutions. The quality of life for visually impaired people is hampered by the resultant lack of independence. To help alleviate this challenge this study reports on the development of a low-cost (<$24), open-source navigational support system to allow people with the lost vision to solve the primary tasks of navigation, orientation, and obstacle detection to ensure their safety and mobility.
The proposed system can be largely digitally distributed manufactured. It conveys point-distance information by utilizing the natural active sensing approach and modulates measurements into haptic feedback with various vibration patterns within the distance range of 3 meters. The developed system allows people with the lost vision to solve the primary tasks of navigation, orientation, and obstacle detection (>20 cm stationary and moving up to 0.5 m/s to ensure their safety and mobility. Sighted blindfolded participants successfully demonstrated the device for eight primary everyday navigation and guidance tasks including indoor and outdoor navigation and avoiding collisions with other pedestrians.
There were several iterations to improve the functionality and ergonomics, using different materials and forms for the design of the case. The electronic part was also significantly revised to maintain effective functionality with minimal dimensions. FFF 3D printing technology provides the best distribution and replication capability, while the flexible filament ensures a reliable assembly without metal parts, easily fits wrist without hurt, tightly fixes the sensor core and absorbs excessive vibration.
The final system is based on a 5-volt HC-SR04 ultrasonic sensor which uses SONAR to determine the distance to an object in the range of 0.02-4 meters with a measuring angle of 30 degrees. It detects obstacles in front of the user’s body from the ground to the head and above, and provides haptic feedback using a 10 mm flat vibration motor, which generates oscillations with a variable amplitude depending on the distance to the obstacle.
The device can be placed on the right or left hand, and it does not prevent the use of the hand for other tasks. It conveys point-distance information and could be used as a part of an assembly of assistive devices or as an augmentation to a regular white cane. In that way, the active sensing approach was utilized, in which a person constantly scans the ambient environment. This method allows a user to achieve better spatial perception and accuracy due to the similarity to natural sensory processes.
All versions of the device were built for less than $24 USD each in readily available purchased components and 3D printed parts. The economic savings over often times inferior commercial products ranged from 82.2-97.6% for the base system to 76.9-96.9% for the optional module.
The measured distance is modulated with vibration amplitude and translated in real-time as a duty cycle parameter from the Arduino board. Distances up to 35 cm are characterized by single vibration pulses with a relatively high frequency. Distances from 150 to 250 cm are characterized by single pulses with low periodicity, and distances above 250 cm are modulated with two-pulse beats. An optimal duty cycle equation for the most common distance range of 35-150 cm was found during experiments and calibrations.
There are four major types of tactile mechanoreceptors in human skin: 1) Merkel’s disks, 2) Meissner’s corpuscles, 3) Ruffini endings, and 4) Pacinian corpuscles. Meissner’s corpuscles respond to high amplitude incentives with low frequency and Pacinian corpuscles, in turn, respond to low amplitude incentives with high frequency. Thus, varying amplitude and frequency of vibrations, it is possible to activate these mechanoreceptors separately, which increases the working range of sensitivity levels.
Summarizing the experience of previous researchers, the set of experiments used to test the devices here consists of indoor and outdoor, structural and natural environment in order to explore the intuitiveness of the developed device and its capabilities in everyday human tasks. The device range and accuracy was found to allow a person with lost eyesight to detect objects with the size of 20 or more centimeters across with the moving speed of up to 0.5 m/s within the distance range of up to 3 meters.
The preliminary testing of the device was determined to be a success based on all three participants being able to complete the eight tasks outlined in the methods section. All participants during the experiments noted the effectiveness of the haptic interface, the intuitiveness of learning and adaptation processes, and the usability of the device. The system produces fast response and allows a person to detect objects that are moving. It naturally complements primary sensory perception of a person and allows one to detect moving and static objects.
Future work is needed to further experimentation to obtain more data and perform a comprehensive analysis of the developed system performance. This will also allow us to improve the efficiency of its tactile feedback, since the alternation of patterns of high-frequency vibrations, low-frequency impulses and beats of different periodicity can significantly expand the range of sensory perception.
The developed low-cost (<$24 USD), open-source navigational support system allows people with the lost vision to solve the primary tasks of navigation, orientation, and obstacle detection (>20 cm stationary and moving up to 0.5 m/s within the distance range of up to 3 meters) to ensure their safety and mobility. The devices demonstrated intuitive haptic feedback, which becomes easier to use with short practice. It can be largely digitally manufactured as an independent device or as a complementary part to the available means of sensory augmentation (e.g. a white cane). The device operates in similar distance ranges as most of the observed commercial products, and it can be replicated by a person without high technical qualification. Since the prices for available commercial products vary from $100-800 USD, the cost savings ranged from a minimum of 76% to over 97%.
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