In-shoe navigation from Honda
Honda is testing a new device that allows for blind or partially sighted people to walk freely without the use of conventional mobility aids
Inclusivity is so important when it comes to day-to-day life, and these days technology and gadgets are just that, they are integrated in our every step and every move. Something that has been possibly overlooked is those with disabilities, accessibility can be a huge obstacle for daily life and technology should be able to help with that rather than be yet another obstacle. But strides have been made to ensure accessibility is key, with simple things such as Siri that helps with search queries and general smartphone use, to Ava, an app that uses artificial intelligence to instantly transcribe a conversation with a group of people, the algorithm even shows punctuation and the name of whomever is speaking, which enables people with hearing impairment to be included in a conversation with a group without lipreading. Honda has now designed and is testing a new device that allows for blind or partially sighted people to walk freely without the use of a cane and allows the users hands to be free.
Honda, the makers of automobiles, small airplanes and equipment, has made leaps and bounds with their new business venture program “IGNITION”. They are backing a start-up which is developing new technology known as an ‘in-shoe navigation system’. The revolutionary tech is being designed and made a reality by Ashirase Inc., and their navigation system dubbed ‘Ashirase’ consists of a smartphone app and a three-dimensional vibration device. On the app, the user can set the destination using voice or screen input, once this is set it will enable sensors to allow the system to determine your position and will give direction via vibrations in your shoes. The shoe part of the device is something along the lines of silicone sandal straps that wrap around the foot, allowing for comfort and discreetness and allow for the vibrations to be distributed where needed: the instep, sides and heels of the users’ feet. The external motion sensors look like small gadgets that are attached to the tongue of the shoes. As cited in Japan Today, the foot straps are fitted with several compact oscillators that vibrate to signal direction. For example, when the section on the left of your foot vibrate it means turn left, if you go too far and miss your turn, vibrations all over both feet signal to stop.
The drive to develop this navigation system was led by Founder and Director of Ashirase Inc., Wataru Chino, after he witnessed a close relative struggle with daily activities after an accident caused them to suffer with visual impairment. It made him realise there needs to be more action taken to allow for a safer and easier way of life for visually impaired people.The device will allow for a safer walking experience and will relieve them of the stress of walking alone outside. Whilst the indicators to go which way will be on the feet, this allows for the user to be focused on where they are headed and allow them to listen to ambient noise such as traffic and other pedestrians which is vital for the visually impaired. Honda is certainly taking an active approach to provide support to more vulnerable people, as last year they also released a ‘Ropot’ which is about the size of a GoPro and can be attached on the backpacks of children to advise them on the safest routes and to ensure they are using roads safely such as indicating to remind them when to look left and right. Creating equipment to allow for more independence and a safer way of life.
Being visually impaired, especially if it is a sudden loss of sight, can make life extremely challenging, but equipment like this new nav system promotes safety without making a huge impact on changing how they do things. In the UK it is estimated that more than 2 million people suffer with sight loss, and in Japan the number of people with visual impairment including low vision was estimated at around 1.6 million, over 100,000 of these people being legally blind. Many people express their frustrations with finding it difficult to navigate and integrate with an ever-changing society, but new technology is helping with this. The in-shoe navigation system by Honda is expected to be released no later than March 2023, meaning this isn’t just a whirlwind concept, but a reality that is set to happen.
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