An artificial intelligence researcher, Jagadish K. Mahendran, and his team at the University of Georgia just designed a voice-activated AI-powered backpack that’ll help the visually-impaired navigate walking on streets and better perceive the world at large. The setup relies on a 4K camera, a computing unit, and a Bluetooth-enabled earphone to help the user navigate obstacles in real time.
“Last year when I met up with a visually impaired friend, I was struck by the irony that while I have been teaching robots to see, there are many people who cannot see and need help. This motivated me to build the visual assistance system with OpenCV’s Artificial Intelligence Kit with Depth (OAK-D), powered by Intel,” said Mahendran.
The system consists of a Luxonis OAK-D spatial AI camera that can be concealed in a vest or jacket, a host computing unit (like a laptop) that’ll be placed in a backpack, a pocket-sized battery pack concealed in a fanny pack, and a Bluetooth-enabled earphone for providing real-time alerts and approximate locations of nearby obstacles, like upcoming crosswalks, tree branches, entryways, signs, curbs, staircases, and other pedestrians.
The OAK-D camera is a remarkably powerful AI tool that runs on Intel Movidius VPU and the Intel Distribution of OpenVINO toolkit for on-chip edge AI interfacing. It can process advanced neural networks while providing a real-time depth map from its stereo pair and accelerated computer vision functions from a single 4K camera.
The World Health Organization estimates that roughly 285 million people around the world are visually impaired. Despite this, however, our current options for visual navigation assistance systems are still limited, like voice-assisted smartphone apps and camera-enabled smart walking sticks. Current options lack a depth perception factor which is what is really needed for better independent navigation, so this AI backpack (which does offer depth perception recognition) is a much-needed step forward for this type of technology.
“It’s incredible to see a developer take Intel’s AI technology for the edge and quickly build a solution to make their friend’s life easier,” said Hema Chamraj, director of Technology Advocacy and AI4Good at Intel. “The technology exists; we are only limited by the imagination of the developer community.”
There are plans to make the project open source. And while the current AI backpack setup is fairly discrete, it’s still kind of a pain to lug around a backpack and hide the camera. Hopefully another creative individual or a company can create a more compact solution.