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AFBAmerican Foundation®
for the Blind

Expanding possibilities for people with vision loss

Idea for a Navigational Aid for the Visually Impaired


This post is a little selfish, I must admit, but not entirely.

I am new to this website and message board, and not visually impaired. My son and I had an idea for a navigational aid for the visually impaired that we think would work very well, and we have submitted a patent application on it, and entered it in a design contest.

We would appreciate your consideration and vote on the idea. Don't vote for it unless you think it is a good idea, but your vote might help us bring this to market eventually. We would like to license the idea to a company and work with them to make it happen.

Here is the link:

Thank you for your help and consideration.

Jonathan Tolstedt

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Re: Idea for a Navigational Aid for the Visually Impaired

This is actually great feedback! Since I posted this, we have done some additional thinking and work and discussion with others, and incorporation into a full cane is actually one of the possible items we were already talking about pursuing, based on feedback from the ND School for the Blind. (My son and I are planning a trip there over Christmas break, when he returns from college, to discuss this further and even participate in a "blindfold experience".

Regarding dependence on GPS, I completely agree...the good news is that the inclusion of an inertial measurement unit (a sensor that allows you to sense movement and rotation of the device) allows us to use a "dead reckoning" technique to compensate for the occasional loss of GPS. It will eliminate many of those issues, plus, if it is built into a full cane, the fallback is the cane for navigation, if we had no other option.

The database updates are an issue, of course, although which is why we would recommend the nightly updates and data upload/download. (Just plug it for the night and it would be automatic, ideally.) I'm also hoping the things we are tracking are not jumping around too much, on average...but great feedback.

The other side of this not mentioned in this forum, but covered in the patent application is that there are several alternate uses for the technology for sighted users, as well, including locating celestial bodies at night and adding a "dimension" to navigation-related sports like geocaching. I hope we can do something in this arena, though, and I hope it can be truly helpful for people.

Thank you for your feedback.

Re: Idea for a Navigational Aid for the Visually Impaired

There are a few issues regarding such a high reliance on GPS technology. The device would not work in areas where objects would disrupt GPS signals (underground in subways, office buildings, other locations where tall buildings would disrupt the signal). And even in optimal settings, GPSs may not always get a signal (when I was using a Trekker before, it took over 30 minutes to get a signal).

Another issue is a pre-loaded map. Unfortunately, objects do not always stay the same in reality. The position of a post may be moved for construction or repair, or repair of a street may shut it down for a bit. And even if the map was updated every day, the people doing the construction may not inform the map-makers about what they are doing.

I've also noticed that you use a wand-style, rather than an actual white cane. Despite advances in technology, an actual physical tip have usually proven to beat out other forms of scanning technology (look up the use of ultra-sonics and lasers in white canes). Wind, puddles, rain and many other obstacles obscure the signals. However, for a physical tip, you would feel where the drop offs are, the walls, doors and such, as well as textures.

The idea has a lot of merit, and it has great potential. I would definitely suggest that if you can, check into the existing technology as well as the technologies that failed, so you wouldn't be stuck with the same issues. And if you can, meet up with an Orientation and Mobility Specialist in your area that can disucss what the white cane does, and what this object would have to do to replace the white cane.

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