June 25th, 2004

Technology Takes Guesswork Out of Downtown for Blind

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A Finnish research project is hoping to make the task of getting around town a little more ergonomic for people who are blind by combining cell phones with wireless internet, global positioning and voice technology.

Deemed the “Noppa” project by developers at the Technical Research Center of Finland (VTT), the guidance system’s goal is to help blind people move around town more efficiently and effortlessly. It works by incorporating a cell phone with a global positioning device that can tell the users where they are, how to get to where they’d like to go and offers information on obstacles like weather and construction. The system is also hooked into a municipal database to offer the user information on transit schedules and delays, and even tell the users precisely when their bus will arrive.

According to Ari Virtanen, one of the researchers on the VTT project, simple tasks like hopping on a bus can be difficult endeavors for people who are blind. “I’ve heard some hairy stories about people who’ve had to wait an hour for the bus because they didn’t know which one to flag down when four or five of them arrive at once,” he told CNN.

The researchers also chose to incorporate voice recognition into the system due to the difficulties inherent to pushing buttons on a cell phone, for a seeing or non-seeing user. “Imagine digging out your cellular phone — which is the size of a large box of matches — in midwinter, wearing thick mittens with rain and sleet whirling around you, and then try to start keying away at these tiny buttons,” Juha Sylberg, development manager at the Finnish Federation of the Visually Impaired, told CNN. With voice commands, the users will be able to speak their information requests and receive verbal answers.

While the Noppa project is still being perfected, the researchers hope to be able to try out the system with a group of blind testers in the fall.

Source: CNN



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