Feeling Their Way

By | November 23, 2009

Dispatches from a rapidly changing, rapidly improving world

Special Dispatch
November 23, 2009

We’ll be running daily BATT’s all Thanksgiving week.

An excellent development from MIT:

 For many people, it has become routine to go online to check out a map before traveling to a new place. But for blind people, Google maps and other visual mapping applications are of little use. Now, a unique device developed at MIT could give the visually impaired the same kind of benefit that sighted people get from online maps.

The BlindAid system, developed in MIT’s Touch Lab, allows blind people to “feel” their way around a virtual model of a room or building, familiarizing themselves with it before going there.


Once [Touch Lab director Mandayam] Srinivasan obtains additional funding, he…believes BlindAid could be used to help blind people not only preview public spaces such as train stations, but also plan and travel by public transportation using virtual route maps that they can download and interact with through touch.

Empowering the visually impaired by enabling them to “preview” an unfamiliar place by sense of touch is just the beginning. The integration of GPS technology with the ubiquitous (and increasingly detailed) mapping of the world available online opens up huge possibilities for the blind, requiring only that the data be made available through a non-visual interface. As attention begins to turn to the mapping of interior spaces, the utility of such information grows exponentially.


One day soon, blindness will be a thing of the past. In the mean time, it is encouraging to see how emerging technologies (and the resulting emerging possibilities) continue to chip away at the barriers the visually impaired have always encountered when trying to interact with a world that assumes vision.


Live to see it!