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Graphics Software

3-D Virtual Maps For the Blind 50

Roland Piquepaille writes to let us know about research into producing palpable maps for the blind. Scientific American has the story of Greek researchers who produce 3D "haptic" maps that "use force fields to represent walls and roads so the visually impaired can better understand the layout of buildings and cities." Two separate systems produce haptic output from standard video and from 2D maps. The systems have been tested on a small number of users. Currently the devices that interpret the "force fields" for sight-impaired users are not portable, and so the systems are most appropriate for doing research before, e.g., visiting a new city.
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3-D Virtual Maps For the Blind

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  • wonderful (Score:5, Insightful)

    by symes ( 835608 ) on Sunday April 08, 2007 @05:49AM (#18654055) Journal
    Advances in technology can have a very important and positive impact on the lives of the visually impaired. Take, for example, the recent advent of home delivery which has caught on in the UK. The blind can now phone up supermarkets and have groceries delivered to their door - they no longer need the services of sighted folks. Email, as well, means that they have another means of communicating. There are readers which can take text and convert it to either voice or braille - again, they do not require sighted folks input and can manage personal affairs with some privacy. All this is great and it is wonderful to see the tech world take greater interest in helping the visually impaired. But, there are two problems. First, cost. Browse a few sights which sell aids for the blind and you'll see that the prices are extortionate - well beyond the means of most blind people.

    But the most important issue, and the one that makes this idea founder, is that mostly it's sighted folks implementing their ideas on what would make the world a better place for the blind. No blind person would likely find themselves wandering an unknown city without some assistance from either a guidedog or sighted assistant. Why? It's not the walls and what not that are the problem... its the idiots who park their cars on pavements, the morons who let their dogs foul the pavements, it's town planners who let trees grow over pavements putting overhanging branches in the way. And so on, and so on. Disrespect is one of the biggest barriers and something that cannot be easily resoved with 'force-fields'.

    Sorry to rant, it's a nice idea...

    • by Anonymous Coward
      use the tag "boycottroland" and let the slashdot editors know that Roland has no place with his blogspam on slashdot, and he needs to take his bogspam to sites devoted to that purpose, e.g.
    • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

      its the idiots who park their cars on pavements, the morons who let their dogs foul the pavements, it's town planners who let trees grow over pavements putting overhanging branches in the way

      Sorry to rant, it's a nice idea...

      Thats OK. You have just listed the things which piss me off more than practically anything else. I am not blind but the quality of my environment is important to me. Its a shame we have to invoke the needs of disabled people to get attention paid to things like this.

      A good example

    • by Seumas ( 6865 )
      Extortionate? How big do you think the blind market is? Do you expect people to invest significant R&D and then sell solutions at a loss for the good of humanity?

      The cost of most attempted solutions to assist with blind living may be high, but I doubt that has nearly as much to do with extortion as it does with simply supply and demand.

      I also fail to see how one can call poor planning a form of "disrespect". Or do you think that the city planners are twisting the tips of their upturned moustaches while
    • Re:wonderful (Score:5, Informative)

      by smallfries ( 601545 ) on Sunday April 08, 2007 @07:18AM (#18654319) Homepage
      While your points are all true, as a scientist it was the description of "force-fields" in the article that really pissed me off. So we map points in the city into "force-fields", and then we "simulate" the "force-fields" with haptic input. So.... in effect there are no force-fields - only geometry which the haptic device then interacts with. Whoever wrote this article is a first class dickwad.

      On the subject of visible assumptions, we have a blind guy doing some research into haptic interfaces as part of his PhD. Every so often the department gets the chance to try one of his experiments and the results are odd to say the least. As someone with sight I would assume that most information comes from shape and size, apparently these are secondary cues to the user of a haptic interface. I shouldn't really go into too many details as I'm not sure what he's published and what he hasn't.
    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by Tom ( 822 )
      While I agree with most of your points, one point strikes me as arrogant: It is not "disrespect" to not build the entire city to the needs of a minority, sorry dude.
    • by Instine ( 963303 )
      Speaking of advancements in tech... Talklets [] is one such step forward. Instead of the visually impaired user needing to have a bulky app installed on the computer they with to veiw a site from (in practice often meening they must only use their own computer - not a library, school, friend's etc...), the site itself can allow hot-key and speech enablement. Interest declared...
      • How is a blind person supposed to be able to use that weblets thing if they can't see the freaking buttons to activate it?

        Not to mention that it has all the same flaws as a regular text reader in that it is next to impossible to use on a website made for sighted people. Even your own sales site shows off how crappy it is (e.g. Press the text resize buttons a few times and the whole page goes to shit; or if your mouse moves accidentally the thing starts reading some other part of the page). I realize that

        • by Instine ( 963303 )
          "How is a blind person supposed to be able to use that weblets thing if they can't see the freaking buttons to activate it?"

          You are audibly told to press F9 to switch on hotkeys. Then F12 to here a list of these keys. If you have cookies on you will only here this once (so as not to become annoying. If you were not sighted you would have waiting to here this.

          "Not to mention that it has all the same flaws as a regular text reader in that it is next to impossible to use on a website made for sighted peop
          • I'm going to respond to your comment in reverse order because I want to get this out of the way first of all. I am not someone who thinks this technology is useless. I am aware of the fact that most of us (if we live long enough) at some point in our life will have vision impairment to some degree. In fact I'm probably more likely than most to have vision problems at some point in my life since I tend to spend most of my time in front of a monitor. I do think that text-to-speech is not the ideal solution. A

            • by Instine ( 963303 )
              Hmmm... "it really falls short when it comes to navigating around your PC and it also sounds nothing like real speech." JAWS does a fine job of this, Talklets isn't designed to do this (just web content) all OS built in features that I have tested fail to do this... And I think you'll find Talklets voice far more natural sounging than any that come with an operating system.

              "That was basically my whole point. I'm not saying this script is entirely useless just that it really isn't anything new and offer
    • Reginald Golledge, one of the people quoted in the article and a top-notch researcher in the field, is blind himself.
  • by ben0207 ( 845105 ) <ben.burton@[ ] ['gma' in gap]> on Sunday April 08, 2007 @05:49AM (#18654059) Homepage
    Force fields? Holographic maps? Invisibility cloaks?

    How long was I asleep?
  • by rucs_hack ( 784150 ) on Sunday April 08, 2007 @05:53AM (#18654063)
    I don't see it.
  • Force feedback (Score:4, Interesting)

    by MichaelSmith ( 789609 ) on Sunday April 08, 2007 @05:54AM (#18654069) Homepage Journal

    OK the only original idea in TFA is a force feedback glove which simulates touching a surface by pushing back against fingers at the appropriate moment. I can think of lots of uses for that if the device can be put into production.

    The rest of it is all about building physical models of spaces, then taking pictures of them and turning the pictures into 3D models using an algorithm which the author is obviously very proud of. Unfortunately most people who design stuff these days build a 3D model in software at the outset, so going the other way is useful, but not the first thing I would think of.

    • Perhaps more useful would be a system capable of doing the video-to-model conversion on the fly. Use stereoscopic cameras to make it easier to pick out moving objects, and suddenly the 3D model on the map becomes a lot more useful, capable of dealing with things like pedestrians and temporary barriers because it has no preconception of what the space 'should' look like.
    • Agreed, force feedback technology being used this way is a great concept with many practical applications, however I think using the term "force field" in the article is highly misleading, and the science journal's writer deserves a thumping for that. A hand isn't hitting an amazing new electromagnetic barrier, rather A glove is passing into a set of spatial coordinates it's programmed to respond to.
  • Good (Score:4, Funny)

    by Godman ( 767682 ) on Sunday April 08, 2007 @06:05AM (#18654099) Homepage Journal
    now blind people can have porn too.

    "Feels like a couple of hills over here, maybe a park a bit lower, feels like some bushes...."
  • Without even reading comments, one can safely assume that /.ers already thought of some misapplications of that.
  • Too large? (Score:1, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward
    Well, nice idea, but I somehow fail to see a blind person walking around any time soon with a combination of a PHANTOM Desktop device (DESKTOP size, not that portable) and a CyberGrasp glove (just Google for it and check this bulky thing - including backback - out for yourself). These devices are probably great for lab applications, but as long as they aren't miniaturized, applications in which such devices are to be worn as portables are wishful thinking IMHO.
  • Related see this audio maps project [] (via C []). Fron the former link: "In the case of geo-referenced data where users need to combine demographic, economic or other data in a geographic context for decision-making, we designed iSonic, an interactive sonification tool that allows users to explore in highly coordinated table and choropleth map views of the data. Sounds of various timbres and pitches are tied to map regions and other interface widgets to create a virtual auditory data display."
  • I've been living in Japan for the last few years and they've been using "modern tech" to aid the blind for years. All subway/train/bus stations, and even most sidewalks in downtown areas, have pathways of raised bumps (like sidewalk braille) leading to/from all exits/stairways/crosswalks/etc. It's mind-numbing how pervasive these things are. Braille "enabled" maps are posted all over (with, of course, sidewalk-braille paths leading up to them). They even have braille written (embossed?) on staircase railing
  • Not all that useful: (Score:1, Informative)

    by musther ( 961493 )
    I'm visually impaired, and I went to a school of visually impaired people, so I have experience of technologies to help blind people. Personally, I can see well enough to use a map with a magnifier, but this flashy new tech isn't aimed at me.

    People who have been blind from birth almost always (there are some exceptions) find it immensely difficult to use maps or diagrams, even if they're very well made, with different textures and good labels. The problem seems to be that they can only really take in the
    • The textured ink / special paper display could be a real help for displaying changing graphical information. Especially if it can be done rapidly - near real time. Carried to an extreme a "tactile CRT" to display things like weather maps, etc. would be very worthwhile.

I am more bored than you could ever possibly be. Go back to work.