Imagine being blind and trying to find your way around a city you've never visited before -- that can be challenging for a sighted person. Georgia Tech researchers are developing a wearable computing system called the System for Wearable Audio Navigation (SWAN) designed to help the visually impaired, firefighters, soldiers and others navigate their way in unknown territory, particularly when vision is obstructed or impaired. The SWAN system, consisting of a small laptop, a proprietary tracking chip, and bone-conduction headphones, provides audio cues to guide the person from place to place, with or without vision.
"We are excited by the possibilities for people who are blind and visually impaired to use the SWAN auditory wayfinding system," said Susan B. Green, executive director, Center for the Visually Impaired in Atlanta. "Consumer involvement is crucial in the design and evaluation of successful assistive technology, so CVI is happy to collaborate with Georgia Tech to provide volunteers who are blind and visually impaired for focus groups, interviews and evaluation of the system."
In an unusual collaboration, Frank Dellaert, assistant professor in the Georgia Tech College of Computing and Bruce Walker, assistant professor in Georgia Tech's School of Psychology and College of Computing, met five years ago at new faculty orientation and discussed how their respective areas of expertise -- determining location of robots and audio interfaces -- were complimentary and could be married in a project to assist the blind. The project progressed slowly as the researchers worked on it as time allowed and sought funding. Early support came through a seed grant from the Graphics, Visualization and Usability (GVU) Center at Georgia Tech, and recently Walker and Dellaert received a $600,000 grant from the National Science Foundation to further develop SWAN.