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Inspex is a mobile detection device that can be attached to a white cane to help visually impaired individuals locate obstacles more effectively, in three dimensions. The technologies developed for this project could find applications in many areas, including smart homes, drones and factories of the future.
Following a short and very simple initiation and a few hours actually using Inspex, the visually impaired person will be able to get around easily, avoiding obstacles without touching them. All thanks to the Augmented Reality Audio Interface », explained Suzanne Lesecq, researcher at CEA-Leti and coordinator of the project.
Inspex creates a virtual safe bubble around the user, enabling them to move about without the stress of bumping into all sorts of obstacles in their path.
The partners are currently at the stage of producing the deliverables - the different component systems - and assembling a prototype which should be ready in the next few months.
The system will be user-friendly and robust, as well as being suitable for use in multiple conditions. The main challenge, however, involves working out how to integrate all these sensors yet keep power consumption reasonably low and make the system as small and lightweight as possible. "We have also decided to develop a unit, rather than a special cane, so that the user can fix it to an object that they already use," explained Suzanne Lesecq.
The European consortium was set up to bring together experts working in micro-electronics, real-time data merging, 3D audio interfaces, and visual impairment. The team at the CEA specializes in ultra-wideband (UWB) radio technology and real-time environment perception techniques originally developed for the smart vehicle sector.
In addition to its uses for the visually impaired, the Inspex system could find applications in monitoring systems, distance-measuring systems for drones and robots, assembly machinery used to handle complex parts autonomously, as well as in smart homes and factories.
Involving nine partners from six European countries and coordinated by the CEA, the Inspex project was launched in January 2017 and will run to December 2019. With funding of 4 million euros from the European Union and 500,000 euros from the Swiss government, the project is aimed at designing a white cane for the visually impaired that provides spatial 3D sound feedback regarding the position of objects.
CEA is a French government-funded technological research organisation in four main areas: low-carbon energies, defense and security, information technologies and health technologies. A prominent player in the European Research Area, it is involved in setting up collaborative projects with many partners around the world.