Toyota’s robotics division has a new product in development that could benefit the blind and visually impaired.
The auto giant on Monday unveiled details about Project BLAID, a wearable device designed to help guide visually impaired people through indoor spaces, such as office buildings and shopping malls.
The device, which resembles a smaller and non-plush neck travel pillow, can be worn on one’s shoulder. It contains cameras that Toyota claims can recognize escalators, stairs, and doors.
Speakers and vibration motors built into the device will be used to communicate information about one’s surroundings to the user. The device will also contain voice recognition features and buttons that let users interact with it. Toyota did not say when the device will be available.
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In a video of Project BLAID, a Toyota spokesperson briefly explains how the device’s cameras help it detect objects such as a doorways, room exit signs, and bathroom signs.
The video describes the life of a visually impaired man and how he meets with Toyota researchers to learn about the device. In the video, the man straps the device to his shoulders while a researcher explains how it can recognize a bathroom sign and help guide the man to it.
“Toyota is more than just the great cars and trucks we build; we believe we have a role to play in addressing mobility challenges, including helping people with limited mobility do more,” said Doug Moore, manager of partner robotics at Toyota, in a blog post on Monday. “We believe this project has the potential to enrich the lives of people who are blind and visually impaired.”
Eventually, the device will grow to incorporate “mapping, object identification, and facial recognition technologies,” according to this week's announcement.
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Toyota has been investing in robotic technology over the years in an effort to aid the elderly, especially in the company’s home country of Japan.
Among some of Toyota’s developments for the disabled or elderly include a strap-on robotic leg for people who lost the use of their limbs and a so-called human support robot designed to fetch and retrieve objects for people unable to do so.