Low Vision News

For low vision specialists and those who consult them

USA visit report 1/3: Indoor navigation aids

I have spent the last week in the US on a work trip to the Low Vision Research Labs at the University of Minnesota, where I do a little bit of work with Dr Gordon Legge (a pioneer of low vision research). It has been a great trip – aside from some good collaboration I managed to visit a couple of different research labs in the US and I’ll report on those here. As an aside, it was great being in the twin cities – they are two of my favourite cities in the world. In between work activities I managed to go to the taste of Minnesota festival (where I had the local delicacy of pork chop on a stick), to lots of good restaurants and to catch up with friends who live in Minneapolis.

One of the people who work in the Low Vision Research Lab is Paul Beckmann. Dr Beckmann’s particular interest is in indoor navigation for the visually impaired and blind. Whereas outdoor navigation can be assisted with GPS and similar systems, indoor navigation remains a problem for many people with low vision – particularly in unfamiliar environments like office buildings, hotels or museums. Dr Beckmann has been developing a “magic flashlight” system which finds tags around the walls of buildings and gives an audio description to the user of the location and nearby features over an earphone. It also incorporates options to get further information, so for example you may find you are at room 121, then that this is the office of Mrs Jones, then that Mrs Jones is the human resources manager with responsibility for clerical staff.

Although the system is still in prototype stage, it is already very impressive. Paul is currently piloting the system for users with low vision and people with no vision. If you are interested in volunteering to trial this device and live in the Twin Cities area I’m sure Dr Beckmann would be delighted to hear from you!

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