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Streets will become comfortable for “special eyes”

Young inventors are working on a special locator to help visually handicapped people
28 April, 2016 - 12:01
Ivan Selezniov

At the end of summer a special street for visually handicapped people may appear in the capital. It will help them to find their way around. At least this is the goal set by the developers of the Open World project.

A five-person team headed by 19-year-old student of the third year of the NTUU KPI Ivan Selezniov is developing a system of locators which with the help of a Smartphone will direct a visually handicapped person to an exact location of a needed object and give instructions how to reach it more easily. Special locators will be placed on buildings or even public transport vehicles.

The Day interviewed the initiator of the Open World project, Ivan SELEZNIOV, about how the idea gave way to an almost ready product.

“At first we were working on the project called Techno Eyes. That was a kind of a circle radiating ultrasound waves, estimating the distance to a person wearing it to the obstacle, and giving a vibration signal. The closer the owner was to the obstacle, the stronger signal he could feel. For this we developed a remote control and a glove with necessary functions.

“But when we decided to test this project, we understood that this is not exactly the thing that visually handicapped people need, if we really want to help them, not just sell a device which they will stop using in several weeks. For, as it turned out, the hearing of visually handicapped becomes so acute that they can hear what is going on 10 meters away.

“So, one problem of visually handicapped people that still remains is that the infrastructure of the city is not convenient for them. For such a person it is hard to orient in a supermarket or drugstore. Therefore we started to work on solving this problem and four months ago launched a project Open World.

“It is about making locators that will be glued for example at the entrance to a drugstore. In such a way a visually handicapped installs a special application on their phone and they go past a drugstore, the application tells them about it. If a person is in the place where there are several locators, s/he can choose the needed locator and activate it to receive only its signal.

“We want to place these locators in the street, in public transport, in hospitals at every office. Then a visually handicapped person won’t have any problems with finding a place in the city’s infrastructure.”

How does the application send a notification to a visually handicapped person?

“It is signaling by voice messages. There are programs, screen readers, which help people to get all the information that is on the screen of a Smartphone or computer. In the world there are even visually handicapped programmers who work with such programs.”

Generally there are numerous navigation systems for blind people. What is the peculiarity of the Open World program and the special locator?

“There are many locators that are in Europe and the US which help people to orient with the help of the GPS navigation system. But it doesn’t work in buildings, besides, it shows the location with nearly 10-meter error. This is very inconvenient for blind people. We are planning to make our platform as a GPS supplement, which will show exact location even in a building, because with the help of the locators we remove the error given by the GPS.”

How long have you been working on the project?

“I started to work on the navigation system for the blind back in 2012, when I was a 10-form pupil. Then I entered the Small Academy of Science, and my supervisor gave me a hint that I could make such a device. Later a blind artist appealed to me, and I wanted to help him and to make this device helpful for people.

“Now we communicate a lot with visually handicapped, in particular, those who can use Smartphone and GPS. And when we develop a new prototype, we immediately go to them, and they tell us what should be improved. This is the symbiosis we have with them. Hopefully, this project will be really helpful for people, because this is our purpose.”

At what stage is the development of your project today?

“We already have a prototype, but it is a long way to industrial production, because there are some engineer nuances. We have been using one platform, but if we apply it for mass production, this will considerably increase the cost of the locator. Therefore we need to develop our own panel.

“So, we are looking for investors. We pin big hopes on the projects Smart City and City Next, which is being developed by Microsoft. We have talked to the representatives of this initiatives and are working on the base of IoT lab Microsoft and hope that when we will show the results of our work, they will order the locators, for example, to test one street in Ukraine.”

When are you planning to implement your initiative?

“By our estimations, we can make one street in Kyiv, and we will do this by the end of summer. What happens next will depend on the interest the mayor’s office will have in our project and whether we will find the investors to finance the project.”

How much does one locator cost?

“If we use the technologies we have been working with when we were developing the prototype, one locator will cost about 10 dollars. But it can be made much cheaper – about three dollars. The blind person will have just to download the application and use it.”

Who is working with you?

“Our team includes five people at the moment. I am the chief engineer, I make the entire ‘hardware’ part, connected with 3D modeling, making of the case, and microcontrollers. Andrii Konovalenko is a programmer who writes the application. By the way, at first this application will be supported by Android, but later it will work on other platforms.

“Lesia Kondratiuk is a PR manager. She organizes meetings with visually handicapped people and gives us consultations on the questions of bioethics. Andrii Yasko and Andrii Bulat are developing a website for us.”

From your personal experience, please tell us, how hard it is today for a young developer to create a hardware project like yours?

“In fact, I was very lucky. My father is an engineer and he could always help me with something.

“Speaking about the children who study at school, the Small Academy of Science is a good school. Moreover, today we have Internet shops, if you need something, you can buy apparatus calculation platform for amateur construction and work with it.

“Speaking about student years, everything depends on the atmosphere that you find yourself in. On the one hand, our university program doesn’t fully meet the modern standards. Our graduates will be wonderful specialists by standards of the 1970s. On the other hand, at my department (physical and biomedical electronics) we learn actual subjects, and we have wonderful teachers.

“Besides, numerous labs for developers have been emerging lately. Even in Mykolaiv something of this kind has emerged, although such things are rare in the city. Judging by these trends, it is becoming simpler to make something in the hardware direction.

“There is another way out, to practice a lot and educate yourself.

“But you should take into account the fact that you don’t need much effort to develop your own prototype. It is much more difficult to make a product from the point of view of a manager, the production should be of high quality, quick, and cheap. You need much knowledge and practice for this.”