Virtual 3D Maps for the Blind
I’ve run across several methods to provide maps for the visually impaired, and each is completely different from the other. The latest, Scientific American reports, is a virtual, three-dimensional map that is navigated using force-feedback gloves; the twist is that this new system requires only an ordinary video camera to create the maps.
Architects sometimes create three-dimensional models for the blind, but these replicas can only be used by one person at a time. Paper maps with ridges signifying roads are not ideal either, because they cannot convey enough information. With Moustakas’ system, a digital version of a diorama can be accessed simultaneously by people around the world. Extra information is presented in audio clips.
To build the virtual dioramas, the researchers first shoot video of an architectural model. The video is then processed frame by frame using software developed by Moustakas’ team. As the camera angle changes, the software tracks each structure and determines its shape and location. That data is used to create a three-dimensional grid of force fields for each structure. “Each point on the grid has an associated force value,” Moustakas says.
Two common-touch interfaces simulate the force fields by applying pressure to the user’s hand: the CyberGrasp glove, which pulls on individual fingers, and the Phantom Desktop, which applies a single force to the hand via a wand. Moustakas said the process is somewhat like trying to identify an object by running a finger or wand along its surface.