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Daniel Innala Ahlmark, Luleå University of Technology Photo: Linda Alfredsson
Daniel Innala Ahlmark, Luleå University of Technology. Photo: Linda Alfredsson View original picture , opens in new tab/window

Unique laser navigator helps visually impaired

Published: 30 May 2016

A laser navigator that complements the white cane and helps visually impaired people to orientate themselves. In Daniel Innala Ahlmark’s doctoral thesis in Industrial Electronics, he presents a unique solution to how visually impaired can find and experience direction and distance to objects in the environment.

There are already several types of navigators for the visually impaired on the market. To use a navigator to orient themselves by finding an object and find out the distance and direction to it, is in itself nothing new. An intractable dilemma, however, has been how to communicate the information non-visually, about where and how far away the object is. The most prevalent solution is that of a sound telling you an object is nearby; the closer the object, the more intense sound.

– But, when visually impaired you need to direct your attention to a lot of different sounds. Dealing with yet another one can confuse, says Daniel Innala Ahlmark.

Distance determination – finding objects

The unique solution that Daniel Innala Ahlmark has developed is based on proprioception, the human ability to determine the position of their body parts. When holding the laser navigator, the distance from the navigator to your body is measured by using ultrasound. That distance determines how far the laser measures forward. It is just like holding a white cane; if you reach out your arm you’ll also reach further with the cane.

– We have chosen to divide the laser navigator’s function into two steps; distance determination and finding objects. First you set the distance, and then you can find the object. There is a vibrator on the navigator on which you place a finger. When you point the laser at an object within the set distance, the vibrator vibrates.

While working with the laser navigator, Daniel Innala Ahlmark has used qualitative analyzes. Tests have been done both indoors and outdoors where visually impaired have tried the tool.

– The tests have been incredibly important. Before the tests we had an idea of ​​how the navigation aid would work, but the study participants contributed with fundamental changes, says Kalevi Hyyppä, Professor Emeritus and Daniel Innala Ahlmark’s supervisor.

– Should we succeed in creating a navigator that works, it is especially important to be able to listen. And when you shift from seeing the navigator as an extra-long white cane to a navigation aid, you can really see the possibilities.

Patent and continued development

A patent application has been made concerning the navigator’s technical solution and hopefully, the navigator will continue to be developed, not least with regard to size and weight.

– It will become smaller and lighter. You should be able to keep the navigator in your pocket until it’s needed, says Daniel Innala Ahlmark.

– The navigator will be used as a complement to the white cane and serve as extra security. If for example, I go along a curb and suddenly lose contact with it, I can get the navigator, find a familiar object and orient myself.