Device helps blind navigate

July 13, 2001

A team of fourth-year computing students at the University of Abertay, Dundee, has come up with a device to help visually impaired people navigate.

Abertay runs industrial projects for its honours students, encouraging them to work with industrial clients to design real-world software and hardware products. But in this case, the team's client was Allan Milne, senior lecturer in computing and a guide-dog user.

Mr Milne said guide-dog owners were initially taken by an instructor over a number of standard routes, for example from home to the bus stop or post office. "But you may want to take a route you haven't done for a while, so routes could be stored on someone's home PC and called up."

The students' Navigate system uses a computer database to map surroundings, from buildings to whole towns. A visually impaired person can enter a destination and the Navigate system provides spoken instructions.

Project manager Craig Bousie said: "First, we had to understand the needs of someone with visual impairment, and the final product had to be simple to use. Designing a programme that could be easily adapted and reprogrammed was also difficult."

But Mr Bousie said the team had created a "valuable prototype" and expected that it could be developed to a stage where it could reach the commercial market.

Mr Milne said that ultimately places such as railway stations or theme parks could use the software for visitors and tourists, as well as for people with visual impairment.

"You would say you wanted to go to the University of Abertay and the programme would speak instructions that would be put on a cassette tape. You could then walk along and play and stop the tape," Mr Milne said.

• A device that senses when the rubber feet of a Zimmer frame are wearing out has won the "best idea" prize in Heriot-Watt University's enterprise module awards for management students.

A proposal for a vending machine for disposable cameras won the best business plan prize. Both prizes are sponsored by the Royal Bank of Scotland.


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