Feel-Beyond-Fingers device for the Blind

Period of Performance: 08/01/2008 - 07/31/2010

$220K

Phase 2 SBIR

Recipient Firm

Vortant Technologies, LLC
Weaverville, NC 28787
Principal Investigator

Abstract

DESCRIPTION (provided by applicant): This R&D project will provide a miniature, inconspicuous device for blind individuals to sense what is in front of their hand - both as a short-range sensor for finding small, nearby objects in daily living, as well as a longer-range sensing device for mobility enhancement. The device will be most useful for newly or completely blind individuals, especially in unfamiliar, hazardous, or unsanitary environments. Based on an innovative infrared distance-sensing technology, the proposed Feel-Beyond-Fingers device has several significant advantages that make it unique among solutions for blind users. The Phase l project began with a Focus Group activity at subcontractor Arizona Center for the Blind and Visually Impaired (ACBVI). A proof of concept device was fabricated and tested after detailed packaging and electronics design. Visually impaired participants used the device in simulated everyday scenarios at ACBVI. The participants showed a high level of enthusiasm for the device. In Phase II, the completed SBIR project will result in a device whose effectiveness has been evaluated by users in everyday life, over an extended period of time. Commercialization will produce an attractively priced product that will enable enhanced participation in a wider range of social, vocational, and educational activities. The proposed Feel Beyond Fingers (FBF) device provides an important function that is of interest to a significant portion of the blind and visually impaired population, which currently numbers about 3 million individuals. The proposed device would be of greatest interest to the totally blind, who lack most visual cues about the immediate environment. This is estimated to be about 200,000 people in the U.S. In agreement with previous data, the Phase I user evaluations found that these users face significant issues in locating small and large objects, getting around in social situations, and avoiding inadvertent contact with objects in the environment. The low cost of the production device will also make the technology accessible to a much wider range of people than higher-cost object detection and range-finding technologies.