New smartphone app helps blind find their way inside buildings

Jan 09, 2014 by Bob Yirka report
ARIANNA navigation system description. Credit: arXiv:1312.3724 [cs.CV]

( —A new smartphone app developed by a team at the University of Palermo in Italy helps sightless people navigate inside of buildings where GPS doesn't work. The development effort was paid for by the Andrea Bocelli Foundation and the result is meant as a means of aiding the blind in finding their way around inside of buildings by following a pre-designated path. The app works in conjunction with special tape that is placed on the floor. The user points the smartphone at the floor in a way reminiscent of a cane, swiping it back and forth until it buzzes in their hand, letting them know when to go straight or turn. The team has written a paper describing their app, dubbed ARIANNA, and how it works—it's available on the preprint server arXiv.

While it might seem that vision-based smartphones don't offer the blind much utility, researchers around the world have been proving such assumptions unfounded. Smartphones come with cameras that can be used to connect with image recognition software. Also, GPS coordinates can be connected to apps that read maps and send instructions out via the speaker. The problem with calling out directions via the speaker, though, is that sometimes there is other noise in the area that makes it difficult to hear what is being said. To get around that problem, the researchers on this new effort chose to use in a way that is already familiar to many people who use a cane to help them get around. The new app doesn't warn of objects in the path, but instead allows for following a predetermined path that is free of obstacles, ensuring a safe and direct route to a desired destination.

One impediment to the use of such an app is, of course, the lack of sites using the tape to guide users. Some sighted people may regard putting tape on the floor to serve as a guide to be unsightly. To get around that problem, the researchers are looking into adding infrared line recognition—the camera could see the lines, but people could not. While it's not clear if an arrangement could be made to incorporate the necessary floor tape in public spaces (similar to the removal of physical barriers for those in wheelchairs) it seems obvious that the would be a major advancement for use in locations dedicated to serving the blind.

Explore further: Google releases work tools designed for Android phones

More information: ARIANNA: pAth Recognition for Indoor Assisted NavigatioN with Augmented perception, arXiv:1312.3724 [cs.CV]

ARIANNA stands for pAth Recognition for Indoor Assisted Navigation with Augmented perception. It is a flexible and low cost navigation system for vi- sually impaired people. Arianna permits to navigate colored paths painted or sticked on the floor revealing their directions through vibrational feedback on commercial smartphones.

Related Stories

Bocelli visits MIT for adaptive tech workshop

Dec 06, 2013

Italian classical singer Andrea Bocelli says he might one day get to use the tools that researchers around the world are developing with support from the foundation that bears his name.

Phone camera app with audio cues clicks with blind

May 13, 2013

( —Picture-taking is not a comfortable subject for those with vision impairments or who are blind. Having a resume-type photo for an online bio page or sharing a photo of a trip with friends are ...

Recommended for you

Google releases work tools designed for Android phones

Feb 25, 2015

(AP)—Google is releasing a set of tools designed for businesses and employees who want to get work done on Android-powered smartphones, setting up a skirmish on another key front of mobile computing.

Superfish points fingers over ad software security flaws

Feb 22, 2015

A little-known Silicon Valley startup was caught in a firestorm of criticism this week for making software that exposed Lenovo laptop users to hackers bent on stealing personal information. But Superfish Inc. ...

Team develops web tool to speed data collection

Feb 20, 2015

By 2030, one in five Americans will be age 65 or older. To understand the role neighborhoods play in seniors' ability to 'age in place'—living safely and independently in one's home of choice rather than ...

User comments : 0

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.