Projects

Fauxsee Innovations, LLC is conducting a number of research and development projects that will lead to new products for enhancing the lives of the blind community. Some of these projects are described on this page.

RoboFind™

Fauxsee received a grant from the US Department of Agriculture to determine how various new technologies can be used to provide geo-location information for a blind user navigating in a rural environment. The results of this research will be equally applicable to urban and suburban blind travelers as well. We term the device that will result from this research RoboFind™.

While there are some "talking GPS" devices available, the mapping information provided is not adequate for use in most rural environment and is of limited utility inside buildings. Existing GPS devices know the location of streets and major structures, but the mapping information usually does not include the areas and structures on a farm or ranch – i.e., house, barn, storage shed, silo, holding pen, etc.). RoboFind™ will allow mapping all of the structures of interest on a farm, ranch or rural community and then effectively communicate that information to the blind user. The user can then navigate safely.

In addition, RoboFind™ will use other technologies to provide the blind with information about the local environment. In particular we are interested in locating fences, livestock, large pieces of farm equipment, gates, doors in buildings, etc. Radio Frequency Identification (RFID) and other forms of Automatic Identification and Data Capture (AIDC) are technologies that have potential for use in providing this additional information. RoboFind™ will detect these location and identification tags and communicate this information to the user. These will aid in generating local maps (both inside and outside) of the user's area of travel.

As part of this effort, we are making changes and additions to the Roboglasses® product so that this product can be used to best effect in rural environments. Roboglasses® uses haptic feedback to communicate the distance and location of objects detected using ultrasonic sensors. Fusing this information with GPS and RFID information will provide the blind user with a coherent view of the local environment. In addition, we are adding audio feedback to Roboglasses® (using a bone conduction microphone) so that some location and obstacles information can be communicated by voice to the user (e.g., south barn door is 20 feet ahead and to the right").

We are addressing a number of research challenges in this effort. These include:
  • Determining methods of fusing information from existing Roboglasses® sensors (ultrasonics, accelerometers, gyros, and compass) with GPS navigation and RFID tag detection information. This fused information must provide a state-space description of the user's current location and environment.
  • Determining the algorithms required for producing an accurate state space description of the environment as well as safe travel and navigation instructions.
  • Determining the algorithms needed for calculating a safe route of travel. These route-planning algorithms will utilize GPS mapping information and waypoint information entered by the user. Route planning is made more difficult in rural environments because the traveler often will not follow established roads found on traditional GPS maps. Rather travel will be shortest distance across fields, pastures, woodlots, etc.
  • Using only audio and haptic feedback, determine how to best communicate route information to the user along with notification of departures from the planned route, features of interest encountered as identified by associated RFID tags, hazards in the travel path and other information. The user will provide commands to the system using simple capacitive touch buttons and slider input devices. These input devices are located on the Roboglasses® frame and stems. The Roboglasses® and RoboFind™ systems will use a bone conduction speaker mounted in the glasses stems to convey audio information about the route, location, hazards, system status, etc. One of the major challenges of this research is developing a simple gesture-based system that will be easy to use, effective and not disruptive to the wearer. We will also use the haptic (touch feedback) devices in the Roboglasses® to provide status and warning cues.
  • Determine the kind of user support services that must be provided by the proposed system. We must identify the kinds of services necessary to enable operation of the device. Support services include loading GPS data (waypoints) and map data, and RFID tag programming. RFID Tags have a unique ID associated with the tag (e.g., hay barn, stall) and/or location (northeast door). Support services must provide a means capturing and entering audio information to be played back to the user ("Now at northeast door of dairy barn."). This requires careful design to allow a blind user to utilize these services.

Making Television Enjoyable for the Blind

In most families watching television is an enjoyable social activity. However, the blind are not able to enjoy this activity - not because of a lack of eyesight but because television technology does not allow them to access available information provided with television programming. We are doing research to develop the technology to make television accessible to the seeing impaired.

While the federal government mandates that the major networks transmit a limited amount of programming with audio descriptions of the video telecast, this service is currently almost unusable by the blind. These description services use a narrator talking during the telecast describing what is happening on the screen during natural pauses in the dialog (and sometimes over the dialog). Current TV technology uses on-screen displays to set up and control the use of description services. Current television remote controls use large numbers of multifunction buttons and are not designed for use by a blind user. The blind user, when faced with on-screen displayed setup procedures and complex remote controls, cannot access television programming without assistance. The current audio descriptions of video programming are transmitted along with the normal audio track of a program. These descriptions are of no use to a sighted viewer and are quite disruptive. This means that a blind television user cannot enjoy a broadcast in a social or family situation.

There exists a need for a device that can select the descriptive information from the television broadcast, transmit it along with the program audio to the blind user, and allow him/her to utilize the descriptive service without disrupting others. Further, the device must be capable of being used without complex setup procedures using a remote control designed specifically for the blind user.

Fauxsee Innovations, LLC is conducting research leading to the development of a product that will provide these capabilities for the blind television user. We have a patent application pending covering our initial concept. Our concept is for a new device that consists of a small electronics unit that connects to an over-the-air TV antenna or a set top box (STB) such as a cable box or satellite receiver. In addition, a remote control device specially designed for use by a blind user is provided. These are used with either Bluetooth wireless headphones, earbuds or Roboglasses®. This means that descriptive audio information can be routed to the blind user listening to the descriptions through the headset.

Our work will lead to a device that will allow mixed groups of sighted and unsighted users to enjoy the same movie / programming together. There is currently no device that allows users to receive audio playback in which the audio feed does not interfere with the enjoyment of others. Most people find listening to audio description to be highly annoying when they have no need for such audio description. Current televisions, cable boxes, satellite receivers, and multimedia players simply allow for one mode of use or the other (not both simultaneously) causing the blind to feel even more isolated. Our research will lead to a device that will alleviate this problem.

Dead Reckoning and Precision Navigation Research

GPS is a a powerful navigation system. However, it suffers from two serious problems. First, GPS requires an antenna with access to the sky. This significantly lessens the usefulness of the technology when navigating indoors. Secondly, current GPS is only accurate to an accuracy of 2.5 to 3 meters. This is not adequate for the personal navigation needs of the blind. This has motivated additional research and development work at Fauxsee Innovations, LLC.

One technology that we are investigating is dead-reckoning navigation. Since both the Roboglasses and RoboFind™ products utilize three 3-axis gyros, it is possible to determine a person's movement (acceleration), attitude and bearing if one of the gyros is used to implement a magnetometer (compass). Knowing both speed and direction of travel it is possible to compute the location of a person (e.g., a blind person walking inside a large building). However, this is computationally quite difficult because of the error accumulation inherent in using the currently available 3-axis gyro technology. However, by augmenting the position information with information gathered from other sources (such as RFID tags) it is possible to correct for these errors. We are currently researching this problem with a goal of adding dead reckoning navigation to RoboFind™ and Roboglasses® and providing more accurate navigation information to the blind both indoors and out.

We are also investigating the use of precision GPS technology. This technology will allow precision location determination within a few mm. While in it's infancy, this technology holds promise for providing more precise outdoor location and navigation information.

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More Information

Research Projects

  • New Features and capabilities for the next generation of Roboglasses®
  • RoboFind™ Navigation and wayfinding for the blind traveler - both indoors and outdoors.
  • Enjoyable televsion for the blind by making audio program descriptions easy to access and non-obtrusive.
  • Precision dead-reckoning navigation for indoor use.

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