Canes, dogs, and GPS devices are reasonably sufficient in generating a basic layout of surroundings that blind or visually impaired people can effectively navigate. Complex indoor spaces like office buildings and malls are challenging for these methods to interpret—GPS doesn’t always work indoors and has no way of producing a layout, dogs can’t really help find a bathroom or specific store in a mall, and while a cane can tell you where an escalator is, it can’t tell you if it’s the correct one to use.
To give the blind or visually impaired a more comprehensive map of indoor surroundings, Toyota of all places is working on Project BLAID, a horseshoe-shaped neckband with built-in cameras. According to Toyota, these cameras will be able to distinguish surroundings and pass on the information with vibrating motors and speakers.
In turn, the wearer should be able to communicate with the neckband thanks to its button controls and voice recognition software. And for those wondering why a primarily automotive company is making wearables for the visually impaired:
“Toyota is more than just the great cars and trucks we build; we believe we have a role to play in addressing mobility challenges, including helping people with limited mobility do more,” said Toyota’s manager of partner robotics in the company’s blog. “We believe this project has the potential to enrich the lives of people who are blind and visually impaired.”
Project BLAID’s prototype is still very early in development, and its efficacy in producing complex maps of indoor areas—at least as far as I could find—is yet untested.
However, Toyota has somewhat concrete plans for future development. Next on the docket is to equip the device with more extensive mapping software, object identification, and facial recognition. Part of the project also encourages Toyota employees to send in videos of common indoor landmarks to help programmers educate Project BLAID in recognizing them more effectively.