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Assiniboine students develop navigation system for visually-impaired people

Assiniboine students develop navigation system for visually-impaired people

Written On: 24 May, 2019
Category: Academic Learn By Doing Student Spotlight Technology
Related programs:  Communications Engineering Technology

Fadi Al Sai and Jairo Mosquera, two recent Assiniboine Community College graduates, have developed a system to allow visually-impaired people to walk into a building they aren’t familiar with and find their way around without any personal assistance.

A visually-impaired student walks off the elevator at the Victoria Avenue East campus of Assiniboine Community College.

“How do I get to Room 311?” she asks a hand-held device.

“Walk forward 30 feet and turn left,” replies the female computer voice. When the student enters the room, the computer voice confirms, “You are in Room 311.”

Fadi Al Sai and Jairo Mosquera, two recent Assiniboine Community College graduates, have developed a system to allow visually-impaired people to walk into a building they aren’t familiar with and find their way around without any personal assistance.

The Indoor Navigation System for Visually-Impaired People acts inside a building the way many vehicle navigation systems work in cars.

It can understand voice commands and respond with directions in spoken English or another language that the user speaks. It can track where the user is and relay that information to building security, in case the person needs assistance.

The two recent graduates in Communications Engineering Technology have developed a prototype that works on the third floor of the building in which their classroom and lab are located.

They would like to work with people in the visually-impaired community to do further testing and development with hopes of rolling it out in more locations.

The system uses electronic beacons, located in the hallway and classrooms, which transmit signals to the hand-held device via Bluetooth Low Energy (BLE), which conserves battery life. The small beacons will be able to run for up to two years on two AA batteries.

The device uses the beacon signal to calculate the location of the user, the direction and number of steps to the destination and when the user has arrived.

If the user gets off-course, the device will notify the user and issue new directions on how to get back on track. “You are taking the wrong direction. Please turn back.”

The hand-held device uses Wi-Fi to transfer position information over the Internet, so that building security can see the user’s location on a map of the building.

Fadi Al Sai and Jairo Mosquera join up for their CET capstone project.

Neither student has a friend or family member who is visually-impaired, but both say they were motivated by the desire to help others.

Al Sai hatched the idea when he was a first-year student. “I said, ‘How can you use technology to help visually-impaired people?’ I know by using voice recognition, I can do different things to help visually-impaired people. My instructors supported me to put this idea into practice,” Al Sai said.

Mosquera added, “I think it’s common that we as technologists think in terms of solutions for industry and clients like that. But with this, we are thinking about the community. In this case, we are looking for a solution to improve the quality of life of visually-impaired people. We feel comfortable that we can develop something for the community.”

Al Sai consulted with representatives from the Canadian National Institute for the Blind as he was beginning the project. Now that the prototype is complete, the students will invite some visually-impaired people to test it.

“We are waiting to have some clients use the system, because that will provide our best feedback, that somebody that needs it can give us points to improve our project,” Mosquera said.

The system is not a smartphone app at this stage, partly because that’s not part of their program’s curriculum and partly because smartphone use is not as widespread in the visually-impaired community. The system could be developed into a smartphone app in the future, they said.

The voice-recognition system and response are provided by Google Assistant, which is freely available online.

Al Sai is from Lebanon. Mosquera is from Colombia. Both students would like to stay in Canada and get a job in their field after graduation.