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Wearable Device Senses Environment for Sight Impaired

Guidesense device

Guidesense device (VTT Technical Research Centre)

11 January 2017. A research lab in Finland designed a wearable device using radar to help people with impaired sight sense other people and objects when outdoors. VTT Technical Research Centre in Espoo, Finland reported the first results of a clinical trial testing the device, known as Guidesense, that began in the summer of 2016.

Guidesense employs short-range millimeter-wave radio waves that detect the presence of other objects in the immediate vicinity of the transmitter. The device’s sensing mechanisms use frequency-modulated continuous wave algorithms that process the signals to calculate the distance, direction, and movements of external objects. The technology also makes it possible to simultaneously track multiple objects.

VTT Technical Research Centre developed the device beginning in 2014, working with the Finnish Federation for the Visually Impaired. Guidesense is worn on a strap around the torso, like a heart rate monitor. Since the signals can penetrate most fabrics, the device can be concealed under clothing. When Guidesense detects a person or object near the individual, it emits an audible or vibrating alert.

A clinical trial is now testing a Guidesense prototype with 25 participants, of which 7 had partial sight, 14 were completely blind, and 4 were both blind and deaf. The first results show nearly all (92%) participants believe the device helps them sense their surroundings, while nearly as many (80%) say the device gives them more ability to move around independently.

“A clear majority of the testers,” says senior scientist and project leader Tero Kiuru in a VTT statement, “felt that the radar improved their ability to perceive their environment and increased their self-confidence when moving around.”

However, only about one-third (32%) of participants would use Guidesense in its current form. While the device is designed for outdoor and not indoor use, it still does not reliably detect objects like thin branches and bushes. In addition, trial participants were not satisfied with the vibration feedback or the device’s distance control.

The clinical trial is expected to continue into the spring of 2017. VTT says Guidesense is being enhanced to better adjust the device’s detection distance and improve the tactile vibration feedback. Further enhancements are also expected to improve its efficiency for indoor use.

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