AR and AI aid visually impaired
When you think of Artificial Intelligence and Virtual Augmented Reality the first thought that springs to mind is a bunch of zombie-like tech heads wearing some chunky headset living their lives in a virtual Sims world while we’re slowly being taken over by robots that can learn. It is actually so much more than that, even helping the visually impaired.
While living alongside the Sims you’ve created and come to love does seem like a pretty interesting way to spend your day, the uses of Virtual and Augmented Reality extend beyond entertainment with more practical uses and maybe even one day becoming a necessity, especially for those who are deemed visually impaired.
There are an estimated 217 million people worldwide with a vision impairment and over 36 million are blind and so therefore often rely on other individuals to assist with day-to-day household errands and when exploring their surroundings. Virtual Augmented Reality Technology allows those with visual impairment or blindness to be less dependent on others, one example is shown through Aira.
What is Aira?
Aira is a mobile app which uses augmented reality to connect individuals to a visual interpretation agent who can see what the user see’s in real time via wearable smart glasses or alternatively through the use of the phones camera. Aira can be used for a range of tasks in a variation of environments, for example, you can call an Agent and ask them to help you explore the city, they can give you directions, describe your surroundings and even keep you safe when crossing the road.
If the app is used alongside the smart glasses it’s also completely handsfree, all that is required is the touch of the button on the glasses and you’re connected to an agent who can see what you see.
At the current moment Aira is only available in the US and it does come at a price of $89 a month for the cheapest plan with 100 agent minutes, all of the plans include the smart glasses, mobile data and hardware insurance.
Microsoft has joined the AR party
Alongside Aira, the ever-advancing Microsoft has also joined the AR party through their HoloLens. Researchers from CalTech have developed an application for HoloLens which uses real-time mapping to create a detailed and complex map of an indoor environment which can then be used to navigate a visually impaired individual through the building using the surround sound speaker.
The HoloLens Experiment is not yet complete and research is still being carried out to how mapping the interior environments will be carried out without the installation of networks of beacons within the building. But, at least that then allows enough time for you to save the 380 or so pounds you’re going to need just to purchase the fetching headgear.
On the flip side of this, Microsoft have also developed a mobile app (so far only available for iOS) assistive to those with visual impairment. Seeing AI, acts much like Aira only without the expensive subscription fee and clunky headset. Seeing AI is an exactly what it says on the tin application, a seeing, artificial intelligence. The app uses the phone’s camera to ‘see’ and read words and documents aloud for the user to understand. It also works alongside a barcode scanner to clearly read the product name and more package information such as cooking instructions when available.
Seeing AI also has the ability to save people, meaning when you direct the camera to a friend, the app recognises them and tells you exactly who they are additionally to the best of its ability, it will also describe others who you do not have saved with specifics such as age, hair colour and facial expression. Other apps can also work alongside Seeing AI to read aloud the text on images in other applications, it can also detect a number of currencies and colours and also describe an overall description of a scene.
What can Seeing AI do?
Seeing AI also has the ability to save people, meaning when you direct the camera to a friend, the app recognises them and tells you exactly who they are (to the best of its ability). It will also describe others who you do not have saved with specifics such as age, hair colour and facial expression. Other apps can also work alongside Seeing AI to read aloud the text on images in other applications and detect a number of currencies and colours and also describe an overall description of a scene.
For more information visit: https://microsoft.com/en-us/seeing-ai
Overall, AI and Virtual and Augmented Reality can actually be considered to be amazingly helpful and lifechanging. All of the three applications above along with additional tech allow visually impaired individuals to keep their independence and rely less on others. Keeping them in control.