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Independent navigation for blind individuals can be extremely difficult due to the inability to recognise and avoid obstacles. Assistive techniques such as white canes, guide dogs, and sensory substitution provide a degree of situational awareness by relying on touch or hearing but as yet there are no techniques that attempt to make use of any residual vision that the individual is likely to retain. Residual vision can restricted to the awareness of the orientation of a light source, and hence any information presented on a wearable display would have to limited and unambiguous. For improved situational awareness, i.e. for the detection of obstacles, displaying the size and position of nearby objects, rather than including finer surface details may be sufficient. To test whether a depth-based display could be used to navigate a small obstacle course, we built a real-time head-mounted display with a depth camera and software to detect the distance to nearby objects. Distance was represented as brightness on a low-resolution display positioned close to the eyes without the benefit focussing optics. A set of sighted participants were monitored as they learned to use this display to navigate the course. All were able to do so, and time and velocity rapidly improved with practise with no increase in the number of collisions. In a second experiment a cohort of severely sight-impaired individuals of varying aetiologies performed a search task using a similar low-resolution head-mounted display. The majority of participants were able to use the display to respond to objects in their central and peripheral fields at a similar rate to sighted controls. We conclude that the skill to use a depth-based display for obstacle avoidance can be rapidly acquired and the simplified nature of the display may appropriate for the development of an aid for sight-impaired individuals.

Original publication

DOI

10.1371/journal.pone.0067695

Type

Journal article

Journal

PLoS One

Publication Date

2013

Volume

8

Keywords

Adult, Aged, Aged, 80 and over, Audiovisual Aids, Blindness, Computer Terminals, Female, Humans, Male, Middle Aged, Vision, Ocular, Visually Impaired Persons