Over the years, we’ve seen plenty of projects that use ultrasonic or time-of-flight sensors as object detection methods for the visually impaired. Ultrasonic sensors detect objects like sonar — they send sound pulses and measure the time it takes for the signal to bounce off the object and come back. Time-of-flight sensors do essentially the same thing, but with infrared light. In either case, the notifications often come as haptic feedback on the wrist or head or whatever limb the ultrasonic module is attached to. We often wonder why there aren’t commercially-made shoes that do this, but it turns out there are, and they’re about to get even better.
Today, Tec-Innovation makes shoes with ultrasonic sensors on the toes that can detect objects up to four meters away. The wearer is notified of obstacles through haptic feedback in the shoes as well as an audible phone notification via Bluetooth. The company teamed up with the Graz University of Technology in Austria to give the shoes robot vision that provides even better detail.
Ultrasonic is a great help, but it can’t detect the topography of the obstacle and tell a pothole from a rock from a wall. But if you have a camera on both feet, you can use the data to determine obstacle types and notify the user accordingly. These new models will still have the ultrasonic sensors to do the initial object detection, and use the cameras for analysis.
Whenever they do come out, the sensors will all be connected through the app, which paves the way for crowdsourced obstacle maps of various cities. The shoes will also be quite expensive. Can you do the same thing for less? Consider the gauntlet thrown!
We could all use some navigational help sometimes. Don’t want to look like a tourist? Get turn-by-turn directions in the corner of your eye.
Thanks for the tip, [Qes]!