Innovation That Matters

Theia can guide users through outdoor environments autonomously | Photo source Loughborough University

Device could serve as an alternative to guide dogs for visually impaired

Health & Wellbeing

A handheld device can guide visually-impaired users through outdoor environments

Spotted: There are an estimated 253 million visually impaired people worldwide, and the vast majority of these get around without any help from a guide dog or aid other than a cane. Now, Loughborough University Industrial Design and Technology student Anthony Camu has devised a way to help them with Theia, a handheld device that can guide users through outdoor environments.

Theia works in a similar way to autonomous vehicles. It is designed to process real-time data, such as traffic density and weather, in order to guide users to their destination. To use the device, users say, “Theia, take me to …”  and Theia does the rest. In order to ‘lead’ the users’ hands, Theia uses a form of force feedback that involves a control moment gyroscope to create a ‘leading’ sensation, similar to holding a guide dog’s brace.

To navigate in real-time, the device combines Lidar and cameras to capture a three-dimensional image of the users’ surroundings. An on-board computer will then determine the best path to take and break down the route into individual commands – for example, bear left for 10 seconds. Theia also comes with a manual mode to allow users to use the device like a cane.

According to Crum, Theia could help the sight-impaired lead more active and independent lives. “Theia has the capacity to expand a blind person’s comfort zones and possibilities, broaden their horizons and allow them to think less about walking and more about what’s waiting for them at the end of the route. The ultimate goal is that Theia’s users can traverse routes safely and efficiently … without the worry and hassle of visualising the environment.”

At Springwise, we have seen a number of innovations aimed at helping the visually impaired. Some of those covered recently include a haptic feedback device that uses ultrasound pulses to form braille patterns in midair and a smart, book-shaped speaker.

Written By: Lisa Magloff

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