Virtual Guide Dog

A new wearable device developed by MIT scientists is composed of a 3D camera, and it could potentially serve as a ‘virtual guide dog’ for the visually impaired.

For the 3D camera, the researchers created a low-power chip to allow it to process the camera's data and consume a very minimal amount of power—only one-thousandth versus conventional computer processors that are tasked with executing the same algorithm.

The prototype device containing the chip is about the size of a binoculars case, can be worn around the neck, and is equipped with an experimental 3D camera. The user can then operate it using a mechanical Braille interface that was also developed at MIT’s Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence Laboratory. This interface can send information to the user regarding the distance to nearby obstacles that are located in the direction the user is headed towards.

"There was some prior work on this type of system, but the problem was that the systems were too bulky, because they require tonnes of different processing," said first author Dongsuk Jeon, from MIT's Microsystems Research Laboratories (MTL) at the time of the study.

"We wanted to miniaturise this system and realised that it is critical to make a very tiny chip that saves power but still provides enough computational power," said Jeon, now at Seoul National University in South Korea.

Point Cloud

The output from any 3D camera can be converted into a representation called a ‘point cloud.’ This then depicts the spatial location of various points on the surfaces of objects.

MIT develops 3D camera and energy efficient chip to serve as 'virtual guide dog.' Image Credit: MIT

This standard algorithm was then modified to trace the point cloud and lower the chips’s power consumption. This same chip is also responsible for quickly giving a rough comparison between each new, successive frame that becomes a good indication of the user’s movement—if the there are barely any changes, then it likely means the user is not moving and will thus send a signal to the camera to lower its frame rate and save power.

As it is, the prototype device is already less obtrusive than any other existing technology that serves the same purpose. But researchers believe they can make it even smaller .

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