Games features

Latest Kinect hack helps guide the blind

Emma Baker
Tuesday, March 22, 2011

It's not the first time Kinect has been hacked, but the latest creative adaptation of Microsoft's motion sensor might be the most useful so far.

As part of the NAVI project (Navigational Aids for the Visually Impaired), students Michael Zöllner and Stephan Huber from the University of Konstanz in Germany have devised a system that uses a Kinect sensor mounted on top of a helmet with a vibrating waist belt, to help people with visual impairments find their way around indoor locations.

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"We wanted to augment the visually impaired person's impression of a room or building by providing vibro-tactile feedback that reproduces the room's layout," the students explained on their website.

The set-up works like this: the Kinect is wired up to a laptop, which the user carries in a custom fold-out backpack. The laptop powers the Kinect using C# software. The Kinect's cameras measure depth information from the surrounding environment, and the information is mapped to three pairs of vibration motors carried in a waistbelt worn by the user. There is also a Bluetooth headset for voice commands.

In the video demonstration, AR-Toolkit markers were placed on walls and doors inside the building to help maximise the capabilities of the Kinect's camera and help it navigate a route.

Once the user is strapped in and connected, the Kinect scans the area for a route and then, depending on the distance to the nearest marker, calls out instructions, such as "Door ahead in 3, 2, 1" and "Pull the door". Signs can also be read out to users.

It's still early days, and the set-up could certainly benefit from some streamlining, but this latest hack shows just how versatile the Kinect can be.

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