GAINESVILLE, Fla. --- Think of it as an electronic seeing-eye dog.
A University of Florida engineering student has designed a helmet equipped with sensors that detect when the wearer is about to run into something. The helmet then beeps or vibrates, alerting the wearer to change course.
"It’s a possible navigation system for visually impaired people in the workplace or in their homes, or possibly even for outdoors use," said Dale Milcetich, a UF senior and double major in electrical and computer engineering.
"Eyebotic" is a bicycle helmet equipped with three infrared sensors that detect objects as far as five feet away. The sensors are connected through a microprocessor to four vibrating motors and an earpiece. The wearer has two options. If he or she selects sound mode, the earpiece makes a tone that increases in pitch as the wearer nears an object. In vibration mode, the motors vibrate in different sequences based on object’s proximity.
"The vibration mode makes it useful for people who are not only visually impaired, but also deaf," Milcetich said.
Milcetich, 22, designed the helmet for a lab class, the Intelligent Machines Design Lab, with the help of his teachers and classmates. But he said he got the idea from his internship this past summer at a St. Petersburg company, Henter-Joyce, that makes software for the visually impaired. Many of the employees of the company, a division of Freedom Scientific, are blind, he said.
"They navigated around the office pretty well, but I think the helmet would be useful for people who just recently became blind or were just getting used to a new area," he said.
Milcetich said the helmet, powered by eight AA batteries, is too bulky and heavy to be practical in its current form. Another problem is it can’t be used outside because infrared radiation from the sun confuses the sensors. Sonar sensors could fix that problem, and as
batteries and the other technology become more lightweight, the idea could lead to a more practical device, Milcetich said.
For example, it’s possible that future versions could be installed in a baseball cap or on eyeglass frames.
"All you need is more compact technology to make this a reasonable option," he said.
Tony Arroyo, an associate professor of electrical and computer engineering and director of UF’s Machine Intelligence Laboratory, said the device could even be made "smart."
"This is a very early prototype and you could put a lot more intelligence into it," he said. "For example, you could make it trainable, so it would remember the layout of particular buildings and locations."
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