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New Radar Device Helps Blind People 'See' 73

Posted by kdawson
from the falling-scales dept.
greenrainbow writes "Students in Israel at the Ben-Gurion University of the Negev have developed new technology that allows blind people to 'see' objects around them through a simple radar system. The device consists of a computer, two video cameras, and a scanning light source; it audibly alerts the individual of objects that are in close proximity. The system scans surrounding objects and their distance from two points, much like the human eyes. Unlike current sensor canes, this new light scanning device is a hands-free system that can sense objects on the ground, overhead, and in the periphery."
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New Radar Device Helps Blind People 'See'

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  • If these people are able to detect objects around them via arriving photons, then it's sight. Artificial, for sure, but still sight.

    see - 2.a. To apprehend as if with the eye. b. To detect by means analogous to use of the eye.

    • Re: (Score:1, Informative)

      by Anonymous Coward

      Wrong, the device is by definition able to 'see' but that perception is translated into auditory signals and the person using the device is able to hear, not see.

      • Re: (Score:2, Interesting)

        by slashsloth (1596555)
        Yes the system maps the surrounding to sounds, i.e., it is a sonfication system. The big question is: how to effectively and meaningfully map a complex, dynamic visual scene (the immediate world around a person) to sounds such that it makes sense to the listener and communicates useful information? There is a good amount of research to show that, especially those who are blind from birth, have a very distinct and unique perception on the physical world; consequently a mapping that may work for a sighted
      • Why does the intermediate data format affect whether they're seeing? Is your definition of sight really limited to "perceiving photons hitting a wet carbon-based light sensor, then being transmitted to a carbon-based brain via electrical impulses"? Does this mean that when I look at a live video feed over the Internet, I'm not actually seeing what the camera is pointed at?
    • The semantics of it hardly matter. What I want to know is:
      1. Will she be able to walk down the road or throgh an unfamiliar building without the cane?
      2. Will we be able to afford this new gadget?
      3. Will this be streamlined enough to wear comfortably?

      If I get the right answers to all those questions I'll be among the 1st slash-doters to post a review.
      • by skids (119237)

        You might be interested in the more advanced "artificial synesthesia" advanced technology:

        http://www.seeingwithsound.com/asynesth.htm [seeingwithsound.com] ...though I am surprised they do it with a square raster. It should really be polar/arranged to the geometry of the human eye. Also they could use some pedestral-based output improvements no doubt.

        I'm a bit skeptical about these things because blind people use their hearing so well, and these would mask natural sounds. They might be better for the recently blinded.

        Also thi

      • by cgenman (325138)

        I've always wanted to take a laser range finder, attach it to a pitch modulator, and see if it would be possible to walk down the street manually scanning around to see the depth of the world around you, one point at a time.

    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by iamhassi (659463)
      "If these people are able to detect objects around them via arriving photons, then it's sight."

      Did you read the summary?
      "The device consists of a computer, two video cameras, and a scanning light source; it audibly alerts the individual of objects"

      So not sight, anymore then saying bats can see at night because they're using sonar.

      Also this article is darn right awful, from the horrible use of stock photo usage to the inaccurate use of the word radar [wikipedia.org], meaning electromagnetic waves, not the two vi
      • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

        by RobVB (1566105)

        the inaccurate use of the word radar [wikipedia.org], meaning electromagnetic waves, not the two video cameras this system is using.

        What makes you say cameras don't work on electromagnetic waves? After all, visible light consists of electromagnetic waves. Yes, most commercial radar systems use microwaves instead of visible light, but that's not a requirement for something to be called radar.

        And also,

        not sight

        I disagree. The system measures light. The fact that it uses the ear to inform the person of what it sees is irrelevant. It can see stars, rainbows and things coming at you faster than the speed of sound. You can't hear rainbows, or can you?

        • The sensation of "seeing" something is qualititatively different from that of "hearing" something. You get to lose the quote-marks when it's something analogous to a cochlear implant for the eye.
          • So you're saying that sight is just about conscious experience, not about detecting photons and forming a mental model of the objects that are around you reflecting the photons? That I could be seeing even though there are no photons (pitch dark), or that I could be not-seeing even though I'm able to navigate my surroundings based on light I'm picking up? I guess we'll never have a computer/robot with sight, either, because they aren't conscious!
            • The problem is mainly semantic, but I still think it's worth arguing.

              You've got a choice whether you want to call something that perceives light to build a model of its environment as being something that "sees". In this case you'd have to point out that our conscious visual perception is some sort of extra thing, if you were describing a bionic eye for example. Or you could say that "seeing" includes this element and that we should refer to the device in the article as allowing people to perceive light
              • by tsm_sf (545316)
                Delightfully pointless. I love /.
                • Well, there are some non-pointless reasons to be careful with language. Quite often in the sciences words are used metaphorically that have a particular "everyday" meaning to most people. There is a danger of people (scientists included) forgetting that these words are being used metaphorically. This kind of thing happens a lot in the cognitive neuroscience literature.
          • by RobVB (1566105)

            Are you one of those people that corrects the blind when they say they're "watching" television?

        • by Zerth (26112)

          The pedant part of me says RAdio Detection And Ranging requires radio-waves by definition. If visible light is used, it is call LI(ght)DAR.

          Another part of me says as long as the "audible signal" sounds like the pinging sound they use in movies, it is awesome.

        • by Laser Dan (707106)

          the inaccurate use of the word radar [wikipedia.org], meaning electromagnetic waves, not the two video cameras this system is using.

          What makes you say cameras don't work on electromagnetic waves? After all, visible light consists of electromagnetic waves. Yes, most commercial radar systems use microwaves instead of visible light, but that's not a requirement for something to be called radar.

          RAdio Detection And Ranging
          Radio = not visible light.
          It is in fact a requirement for something to be called radar, unless the person has no idea what they are talking about. That's why we have different words for SONAR and LIDAR.

      • If these people are able to detect objects around them via arriving photons, then it's sight."

        Did you read the summary?

        "The device consists of a computer, two video cameras, and a scanning light source; it audibly alerts the individual of objects"

        So not sight, anymore then saying bats can see at night because they're using sonar.

        Then I must not have sight either, because my seeing device consists of some light detectors and a light source, which alerts me of objects via electrical impulses to my brai

      • Also, guide dogs aren't colorblind. There are a few breeds of dalmatians that are, but on the whole it's a myth.

    • by fredmosby (545378)
      They're not really 'scare' quotes. It's just a shorthand for saying 'this is what my source called it, but some people may disagree'.
    • by mcgrew (92797) *

      That's not what the dictionary [merriam-webster.com] says.

      4 a : the process, power, or function of seeing; specifically : the physical sense by which light stimuli received by the eye are interpreted by the brain and constructed into a representation of the position, shape, brightness, and usually color of objects in space b : mental or spiritual perception c : mental view; specifically : judgment

      You might have misinterpreted this part:

      6 a : a perception of an object by or as if by the eye <never lost sight of the objective

      • by cgenman (325138)

        It says "by the eye." It does not actually say "by your eye." Certain dictionaries expand the traditional definition of eye to include all photovoltaic devices, such as recording CCD's and fish-skins that sense darkness. And Merriam-Webster isn't as definitive as the Oxford English Dictionary, though I don't have one of those handy at the moment.

        And of course, perception is more fluid than most people feel comfortable with. Certain people taste colors or feel sounds. If you put upside-down glasses on,

    • They should have the quotes around the word "radar". This ain't radar. Radar uses a radio pulse and echo system, or a doppler shift, to detect distance. According to the article, this system uses parallax to determine distance. Furthermore, it uses light, not radio. (Yes, I know they're both electromagnetic radiation, but there are vast differences in how light and radio signals are generated and detected.)

      And no, it isn't seeing. They are interpreting audio signals, not light signals. Would they be
  • Left wanting (Score:2, Interesting)

    by asukasoryu (1804858)
    I found this interesting, but TFA is a little lacking. I'd still like to know how the sensory data is converted so that a blind person can use it. Does the system have a name so I can look it up?
  • back to the future (Score:1, Interesting)

    by Anonymous Coward

    didnt we have an article just a couple weeks ago about ocular implants becoming much more viable? being able to see, compared to having something see for you and alert you. are two totaly different things...i go for the former

  • http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Human_echolocation [wikipedia.org]

    Yeah, a bit of a low-tech solution; but that's actually a very useful property, and seems to work fine if one really cares to do it...

  • by codeAlDente (1643257) on Friday June 04, 2010 @12:04PM (#32459460)
    A similar product already exists. Is this one supposed to be better? http://www.seeingwithsound.com/ [seeingwithsound.com]
    • http://www.seeingwithsound.com/

      Apparently I can't "see" that website unless I have JavaScript enabled. Pity.

  • An alternative (Score:3, Informative)

    by BigBadBus (653823) on Friday June 04, 2010 @12:07PM (#32459498) Homepage
    There is a man who teaches other blind and partially sighted to "see" objects using echo location. He clicks his tongue and waits for the response. I know, it does sound unlikely, but he is extremely good and was featured on one of UK magician's Derren Brown's "The Events" shows last August or September.
  • Traffic signals (Score:3, Interesting)

    by __roo (86767) on Friday June 04, 2010 @12:11PM (#32459546) Homepage

    A system like this shouldn't have too much trouble identifying pedestrian "walk/don't walk" traffic signals and giving an audio signal when they turn red or green. GPS locations of known traffic lights should make this even easier. That would make navigating through a city much easier for the visually impaired. There's some research in this area (link [springerlink.com], link [springerlink.com]) already, but having a system like this in place makes it much more likely for a real, usable production system to eventually end up in the hands of the people who need it.

    • by Jeng (926980)

      Blindly following GPS directions tends not to work out all that well as some have found out the hard way.

    • Re: (Score:2, Informative)

      by tao (10867)
      At least in Sweden and Finland (probably a lot of other countries too) the traffic signals already emit audio signals for red and green (and also "soon to turn red").
    • by godel_56 (1287256)

      A system like this shouldn't have too much trouble identifying pedestrian "walk/don't walk" traffic signals and giving an audio signal when they turn red or green. .

      As others have noted, already done in Australia, Europe etc.

      I've wondered if they could put micro-powered FM transmitters in every traffic light to announce what's going on. They could have a different broadcast frequency for each direction of crossing, and the custom FM receivers would change channel depending on compass bearing. With modern electronics I think this could be done very cheaply.

  • Computer vision (Score:4, Interesting)

    by mmkkbb (816035) on Friday June 04, 2010 @12:16PM (#32459606) Homepage Journal

    thevOICe [seeingwithsound.com] is a computer vision system that can actually run on Android phones.

    • by 4D6963 (933028)

      The article is thin on details, so I was wondering if it wasn't about the same thing except with depth information (as in, a depth map) instead of an unprocessed image.

      If you hear a depth map it'll be a hell of a lot more useful to navigate through a crowd than raw images.

  • Audible warnings? (Score:3, Interesting)

    by MaWeiTao (908546) on Friday June 04, 2010 @12:46PM (#32459946)

    Why use audible warnings? Why not use vibration. Make something like a belt or headband with cellphone-sized motors mounted around the thing. The vibrations can then indicate which direction has an obstacle. Seems more useful and more private than something beeping or talking to you.

    • That's an awesome idea. Four (or even eight) directions combined with variable vibration intensity could give you a good notion of both direction and proximity to an obstacle -- a cranial collision avoidance system. Very cool!

      Combine that with some AI which could speak to you if it recognized an obstacle ("Table - 2 o'clock!" "Stairs - 12 o'clock!" "Mugger - 6 o'clock!") and you've got a real winner! I could use one myself, some days ...
  • Matt Murdock, eat your heart out.
  • Sheesh (Score:1, Troll)

    by mewsenews (251487)

    When will scientists give up on getting the blind to see? Jesus did it two thousand years ago, this is not a new feat people

    </Kentucky school board>

  • By the house of the future: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7mj26QFW6JA [youtube.com]

I find you lack of faith in the forth dithturbing. - Darse ("Darth") Vader

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