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Virtual maps for the blind
Date:9/10/2009

The blind and visually impaired often rely on others to provide cues and information on navigating through their environments. The problem with this method is that it doesn't give them the tools to venture out on their own, says Dr. Orly Lahav of Tel Aviv University's School of Education and Porter School for Environmental Studies.

To give navigational "sight" to the blind, Dr. Lahav has invented a new software tool to help the blind navigate through unfamiliar places. It is connected to an existing joystick, a 3-D haptic device, that interfaces with the user through the sense of touch. People can feel tension beneath their fingertips as a physical sensation through the joystick as they navigate around a virtual environment which they cannot see, only feel: the joystick stiffens when the user meets a virtual wall or barrier. The software can also be programmed to emit sounds a cappuccino machine firing up in a virtual caf, or phones ringing when the explorer walks by a reception desk.

Exploring 3D virtual worlds based on maps of real-world environments, the blind are able to "feel out" streets, sidewalks and hallways with the joystick as they move the cursor like a white cane on the computer screen that they will never see. Before going out alone, the new solution gives them the control, confidence and ability to explore new streets making unknown spaces familiar. It allows people who can't see to make mental maps in their mind.

Dr. Lahav's software takes physical information from our world and digitizes it for transfer to a computer, with which the user interacts using a mechanical device. Her hope is that the blind will be able to explore the virtual environment of a new neighborhood in the comfort of their homes before venturing out into the real world.

A touchy-feely virtual white stick

"This tool lets the blind 'touch' and 'hear' virtual objects and deepens their sense of space, distance and pe
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Contact: George Hunka
ghunka@aftau.org
212-742-9070
American Friends of Tel Aviv University
Source:Eurekalert  

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