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Development of a haptic guidance interface for eliminating veering during indoor and outdoor navigation by blind and visually impaired travelers

Award Information
Agency: Department of Health and Human Services
Branch: National Institutes of Health
Contract: 1R43EY032008-01
Agency Tracking Number: R43EY032008
Amount: $218,583.00
Phase: Phase I
Program: SBIR
Solicitation Topic Code: NEI
Solicitation Number: PA19-272
Solicitation Year: 2019
Award Year: 2020
Award Start Date (Proposal Award Date): 2020-09-01
Award End Date (Contract End Date): 2021-08-31
Small Business Information
3315 N 124TH ST, STE A
Brookfield, WI 53005-3105
United States
DUNS: 080928800
HUBZone Owned: No
Woman Owned: No
Socially and Economically Disadvantaged: No
Principal Investigator
 (262) 563-1145
Business Contact
Phone: (262) 563-1145
Research Institution

Project Summary/Abstract
The primary goal of this Phase I SBIR project is to advance development and perform efficacy testing of an
innovative accessibility technology that aims to mitigate orientation and veering errors of blind and visually
impaired (BVI) navigators. Orientation and Mobility (Oandamp;M) training teaches BVI students how to process and
use information for navigating environments, and how to handle obstacle detection and avoidance using the
long cane or dog guide. Modern accessibility technologies provide position-specific environmental descriptions
and navigation instructions through computer-generated speech. However, there is a critical gap in the
information provided by these existing tools. Specifically, BVI pedestrians still frequently experience
difficulties in some key non-visually guided spatial tasks, such as disorientation and veering due to the absence
of reliable spatial cues normally provided by vision. Neither modern Oandamp;M training nor current technologies
have solved these omnipresent and detrimental accessibility issues. Even sighted people can become
disoriented and veer when they experience visual deprivation, e.g., during sudden and drastic illumination
changes, in fog, or other low-resolution conditions. Research shows that for perception and action tasks such as
maintaining orientation, visual information is inherently spatial. This suggests that oriented walking could be
performed using other, nonvisual spatial sensory information—as long as the information is reliable and salient
to the navigator. Importantly, BVI navigators are able to readily process and use spatial information from
nonvisual sensing, especially on the basis of dynamic geospatial haptic cuing as is used here. Indeed, the distal
pad of the index finger is an excellent transducer of fine-grained dynamic spatial information. This inspired our
use of haptics as a potential solution for eliminating veering, which is harnessed in this project to provide safe
and efficient path finding. Furthermore, this project leverages sensor technologies that are built into
smartphones to convey precise and accurate dynamic spatial information—indoors and outdoors—which is
significant because the smartphone platform is already widely embraced and understood as a navigational aid
by BVI pedestrians. The purpose of this Phase I study is to further develop and examine the effectiveness of
dynamic tactile pointing for indoor and outdoor wayfinding to eliminate veering. Ultimately, through sensing
technologies, an intuitive smartphone application, and a novel haptic interface that delivers fine-grained,
dynamically updated spatial cues through mapped routes and destinations, BVI navigators will be able to walk
precisely along their intended spatially defined routes. Our advancements include a tiny wearable mapping
computer, plus encouraging preliminary results that demonstrate precise wayfinding within one-degree and
one-meter error or better, which is especially helpful indoors and in busy intersections where fine-grained
position estimation is critical to keep BVI pedestrians safely along their intended routes and destinations.Project Narrative
Blind and visually impaired (BVI) individuals face significant challenges with disorientation and veering when
walking and navigating. This Phase I project will develop and empirically demonstrate that a novel wireless
handheld tactile interface, coupled with conventional smartphone sensors and software, eliminates the veering
tendency of blind pedestrians, thereby improving the accuracy, efficiency, and safety of BVI travel. By
providing dynamic orientation information through the spatially sensitive fingertip, this technology will allow
blind pedestrians to track straight lines along intended routes, indoors and outdoors; and arrive at destinations
with high precision and accuracy.

* Information listed above is at the time of submission. *

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