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

rspective," says Dr. Lahav. "They can 'feel' intersections, buildings, paths, and obstacles with the joystick, and even navigate inside a shopping mall or a museum like the Louvre in a virtual environment before they go out to explore on their own."

The tool transmits textures to the fingers and can distinguish among surfaces like tiled floors, asphalt, sidewalks and grass. In theory, any unknown space, indoors or out, can be virtually pre-explored, says Dr. Lahav. The territory just needs to be mapped first ― and with existing applications like GIS (geography information system), the information is already there.

A new road to independence

The tool, called the BlindAid, was recently unveiled at the "Virtual Rehabilitation 2009 International Conference," where Dr. Lahav demonstrated case studies of people using the tool at the Carroll Center for the Blind, a rehabilitation center in Newton, Massachusetts. There, a partially blind woman first explored the virtual environment of the center ― as well as the campus and 10 other sites, including a four-story building. After just three or four sessions, the woman was able to effectively navigate and explore real-world target sites wearing a blindfold.

The virtual system becomes a computerized "white cane" for the blind, says Dr. Lahav. "They get feedback from the device that lets them build a cognitive map, which they later apply in the real world. It's like a high-tech walking cane," she says. "Our tool lets people 'see' their environment in advance so they can walk in it for real at a later time."

Today the blind and visually impaired are very limited in their movements, which necessarily influences their quality of life. This solution could help them find new options, like closer routes from train or bus stations to the safety of home. "Ultimately, it helps the blind determine their own paths and gives them the ability to take control of their lives,"
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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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