Helping the visually impaired to better understand their surroundings

18th May 2017
Enaie Azambuja

At École Polytechnique Fédérale de Lausanne (EPFL) in Switzerland, engineers have developed a novel touchpad that can represent various objects, idea, and locations to help visually impaired people to learn, navigate, and interact with the world. As part of the BlindPAD project, the device has a bunch of knobs that can pop up or down. The entire array of these popups can create representations of street intersections, objects, and the ups and downs of the terrain, for example.

To help guide users, the knobs can create flowing patterns that indicate movement and direction, which can help orient a person and demystify the surroundings and how to move through them.

The technology has been made to be easy on the battery powering it, requiring no electricity to maintain the knobs in position. As with e-paper readers, only changing the state of the knobs requires power.

Denis Maret, a visually impaired person that got a chance to test the prototype, had the following to say about the new touchpad, “Those of us who are visually impaired currently have to use a white cane with an audio GPS when we go to new places,” he explained.

“Like in a vehicle, the GPS tells us when to turn. But we have no way of checking that information, or of making a mental map of the place. This technology will make us more independent.”

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