A team of researchers have started working on a robotic device worn on the hand that can improve the abilities of blind people to move around and grasp nearby things.
The team from the University of Nevada, Reno and the University of Arkansas, Little Rock states that the device functions using cameras and other types of sensors to identify objects. The user will get some sort of force feedback to know when the hand is getting close to the object of interest.
‘This robotic device combines vision, tactile, force, temperature and audio sensors and actuators to help the user pre-sense an object - telling its location, shape - and then grasp it.’
The researchers also plan to add an advanced function that allows the user to catch a thrown ball. The study is being sponsored with an $820,000 grant from the NIH's National Robotics Initiative, administered by the National Eye Institute Division.
Yantao Shen, assistant professor and lead researcher on the project from the University of Nevada, Reno's College of Engineering, explains, "The miniaturized system will contribute to the lives of visually impaired people by enabling them to identify and move objects, both for navigational purposes or for more simple things such as grasping a door handle or picking up a glass. We will pre-map the hand, and build a lightweight form-fitting device that attaches to the hand using key locations for cameras and mechanical and electrical sensors. It will be simpler than a glove, and less obtrusive."
Shen adds that the technology will combine vision, tactile, force, temperature and audio sensors and actuators to help the user pre-sense an object.
"The visual sensors, very high resolution cameras, will first notify the wearer of the location and shape, and the proximity touch sensors kick in as the hand gets closer to the object," Shen said. "The multiple sensors and touch actuators array will help to dynamically 'describe' the shape of the object to the hand when the hand is close to the object, allowing people with vision loss to have more independence and ability to navigate and to safely grasp and manipulate."