Development of Digital Sign System for Indoor Wayfinding by the Visually Impaired

Award Information
Agency: Department of Health and Human Services
Branch: N/A
Contract: 1R43EY017777-01
Agency Tracking Number: EY017777
Amount: $174,499.00
Phase: Phase I
Program: SBIR
Awards Year: 2006
Solicitation Year: 2006
Solicitation Topic Code: N/A
Solicitation Number: PHS2006-2
Small Business Information
HUBZone Owned: N
Woman Owned: N
Socially and Economically Disadvantaged: N
Principal Investigator
 (763) 463-4814
Business Contact
Phone: (763) 463-4814
Research Institution
DESCRIPTION (provided by applicant): It is challenging for visually-impaired people to find their way in unfamiliar, complex indoor spaces such as schools or office buildings. GPS technology has already been exploited for speech-based navigation for visually-impaired wayfinding in outdoor environments, but there is no equivalent technology for indoor wayfinding. Sighted pedestrians may sometimes find indoor wayfinding challenging, but they can usually find their way with the help of signage. The inability to easily access signage continues to be a major impediment to indoor wayfinding for people with visual disabilities. A team at the University of Minnesota Laboratory for Low-Vision Research has demonstrated the feasibility of a Digital Sign System (DSS) to support indoor navigation for visually impaired people. DSS initial proof-of-concept prototype consists of a hand-held device that emits an infrared beam. The user pans the beam until a reflection from a retroreflective bar-coded sign (less than 5 cents in cost) is returned. Computer software "reads" the sign's image and feeds its identification code to a building database. Information, including the content of the sign and its position, is then retrieved from the database and provided to the user via synthetic speech. Feasibility prototypes of all system components have been developed and validated. The goal of this phase I project is to develop a ruggedized engineering prototype for human testing. The engineering work will include designing an improved optical assembly, developing digital tag localization software that replaces the current analog circuitry, and optimizing the tag recognition software for real time application. This ruggedized prototype will be used to evaluate the efficacy of indoor wayfinding by visually impaired pedestrians via DSS and a spatial database with speech-based user interface called the Building Navigator. In phase II, AME and the University of Minnesota will miniaturize the DSS-Building Navigator system so that it fits in a pocket. These production prototypes will be commercially viable. The University of Minnesota will conduct a new, larger phase II human study using these miniaturized devices. Independent mobility is an important prerequisite for full participation in modern society. Reduced mobility and associated social isolation are among the most debilitating consequences of vision loss. The Digital Sign System is a significant new technology to helping wayfinding for people with vision loss because of the low cost required for a facility to implement it.

* information listed above is at the time of submission.

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