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AI Proves To Be a Boon for the Blind
AI Powered Backpack That Will Assist the Visually Impaired

Jagadish K. Mahendran and his team at the University of Georgia has been successful in designing a backpack powered with Artificial Intelligence (AI). This backpack is designed to assist visually impaired individuals to detect frequent challenges such as traffic signs, crosswalks, hanging obstacles, grass and will also be able to recognize a host of road signs. This innovation was aimed to replace guide dogs and canes for the blind and to provide better assistance.

This AI system can be placed in the backpack, when accessed by a visually impaired person it will provide them with much better clues about their surroundings. This backpack is equipped with an AI system running on a laptop also containing OAK-D cameras, capable of providing obstacle information and depth information. The cameras run on Intel’s Movidius VPU and are programmed using the OpenVINO toolkit. Along with this they also have a waist pack containing batteries for the system.

Mahendran said, “Last year when I met up with a visually impaired friend, I was struck by the irony that while I have been teaching robots to see, there are many people who cannot see and need help. This motivated me to build the visual assistance system with OpenCV’s Artificial Intelligence Kit with Depth (OAK-D), powered by Intel”.

Hema Chamraj, the Director of Technology Advocacy and AI4Good at Intel said in his statement, “What we are seeing with the type of innovation Jagadish and his team are bringing forward is the real democratization of AI.”

The high tech system analyses the surroundings and provides vocal assistance to the person about where to move, all in real time. This is made possible with the help of Bluetooth headset in the backpack allowing interaction with the system over voice commands and requests. This system is also capable of providing directions to the users while also informing when they must deviate or stop.

Another fascinating feature about this system are its “critical updates”, which are non negotiable as they are related to the safety of the user. This includes informing the user about an approaching cyclist or change in curb elevation. The “Describe” command identifies the objects and provides responses such as,” person, 10 o’clock” or “traffic light 2 o’clock.” This system allows the users to save their location and share it via an SMS.

Mahendran has bagged the grand prize at the OpenCV Spatial AI 2020 Competition sponsored by Intel. This competition is the largest of its kind in the world. This system is equipped with high level of detection and interaction capabilities that allows the system to warn the users if there are stairs or pedestrian crossing ahead. According to the estimates done by the World Health Organisation (WHO), there are more than 250 million visually impaired people in the world out of which 40 million reside in India alone. Intel also noted that usage of visual assistance system for navigation is fairly limited.

Speaking about the attention paid to the details of the backpack, there was a conscious attempt made to hide the sensors and make the bag look like just any other ordinary bag. This was done in order to avoid any sort of unnecessary attention.

Overall this AI powered backpack will be able to empower the visually impaired by giving them the freedom to move around independently.

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