Foresight’s AI-powered wearable helps low-vision users feel the world

Good News Notes:

Vision is arguably the most important of the five basic senses, providing most people with the ability to navigate through the world — but there are 285 million visually impaired people worldwide who need assistance to augment their sight. In some cases, the best solution might be a large vision-boosting headset, but a less conspicuous haptic wearable might be a great primary or secondary choice. That’s where Foresight’s new AI-powered navigation aid comes in.

Developed by a team of Harvard students, Foresight places soft robotic actuators inside a device that’s worn like a vest, turning camera input from a smartphone into localized sensations of force across the wearer’s torso. Using a custom version of the computer vision AI system YOLO, Foresight detects, classifies, and estimates the movement of objects surrounding the user, then uses the actuators to apply more or less pressure at various points depending on the user’s distance from those objects. Even without vision, a user could distinguish between a mostly open path ahead, a wall to the left, and a person approaching from the front.

As is often the case with vision assistive technologies, the end product isn’t merely about providing helpful functionality, but also about balancing the wearer’s needs for dignity and practicality. The researchers describe Foresight as ‘discreet, affordable, and intuitive,’ using inflatable soft textiles on the body rather than uncomfortably vibrating haptic motors, a design that can be mass-manufactured without ‘high-end fabrication facilities.’ That’s key to enabling the wearable to spread into parts of the world with lower income levels.”

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