Large advancements in a technology often give rise to numerous benefits that are quite unrelated to the original purpose of that technology. This effect is perhaps most well-known as it relates to NASA’s early space program, which led to advancements in areas as diverse as health and medicine, transportation, consumer goods, energy, and information technology. Now that cross-pollination of ideas is being seen as the development of technologies to support self-driving cars continues its forward march.
Capitalizing on enhancements to technologies that can recognize and react to the environment, and aid in navigation of vehicles is a company called biped.ai. They have developed a lightweight, wearable device called biped that can help the blind and visually impaired to navigate along city streets, and to avoid collisions and other dangers.
Worn on the shoulders, and weighing in at under two pounds, biped can provide up to six hours of assistance on a single battery charge. 3D infrared cameras tucked inside the device scan a 170 degree area in front of the wearer. A machine learning algorithm, that runs locally on the device, detects objects that are present in the environment. By watching these objects over time, it is possible to determine their trajectories, and if that trajectory suggests an imminent collision with the biped wearer, the device can give them an alert. Alerts are given via spatial sounds heard over headphones. Designed to be intuitive, an impending collision to the user’s left, for example, is signaled by an alert tone played in the left ear.
Biped’s algorithm, called copilot, is capable of anticipating collisions several seconds before they happen, giving the wearer sufficient time to react. To prevent alert fatigue and keep warnings relevant, the system will filter out objects that are not of importance.
The device also comes equipped with GPS and a navigation system that helps wearers to get around. Biped can provide audible instructions through the headphones to guide the user to their desired destination.
Biped is not yet available for purchase, however, they have opened up a beta testing program that prospective users can sign up for on their website. While this device is not a complete solution — it is still recommended that a wearer make use of a white cane to detect small level changes, for example — biped does offer an interesting solution to the navigation problems that many blind and visually impaired people have. With a bit further development, this device may offer them a whole new level of independence.