New Smartphone App Is Made To Help The Blind Get Around

Apps have been catering to people from different walks of life and have varying needs. The mobile app appears to be an efficient medium to aid people with certain disabilities, as most people have it in hand. Now, a certain smartphone app is being tested. The app is one that helps the visually impaired navigate around places where they are.

IBM fellow Chieko Asakawa knows very well the challenges of navigating around her university campus. She is blind and going around the campus with her cane in tow means having to count steps in full concentration and remember landmarks. When people walk up to her to chat, she loses concentration. Asakawa told Stuff New Zealand, "For us, you are always thinking how many steps to the next turn and where you are. You can't walk while thinking about other things. It's very easy to get lost if you are not careful."

This week, Asakawa is NavCog, a smartphone app made for the visually impaired. The app is like a GPS system, guiding the user around with verbal instructions and directions. According to the report, NavCog describes distances to the user and lets her know when she has arrived on a landmark. The app also directs her on where to turn and indicates how many steps to make. A Medgadget report said that a facial recognition feature that works to recognize nearby friends is under testing.

The app is developed by Asakawa, who is helped by Kris Kitani at Carnegie Mellon's Robotics Institute and IBM. Asakawa has a PhD in Engineering. She uses the app, which is equipped with signals and Bluetooth sensors, to get her around campus. Asakawa and Kitani are currently testing a camera to work with the NavCog app. 

"While visually impaired people like myself have become independent online, we are still challenged in the real world," Asakawa said. She also added that the app may help further research and development of other technologies that may aid visually impaired people like her. The app is available for free in the App Store and can be downloaded via iTunes. 

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