Apple is developing technology that would combine a cylindrical device and possibly smart clothing to provide blind and deaf people tactile or auditory signals to navigate their environments.
According to a patent application filed by Apple, the device would map the environment with sensor data and provide feedback. For the blind, the device could sync with an iPhone to provide spoken feedback to the user. For the deaf, vibrating signals could be delivered to a wearable, such as a shirt or the Apple Watch.
If the user is both blind and deaf, a touch screen could produce a “tactile sensation of bumps,” according to the patent application.
In some of the images, it seems that the device resembles a torch, with sensors at one end to collect data ahead of the user, and the “input/output touch surface” looping around the cylindrical body.
This surface is suggested to include a bump-creation system that can be used to give tactile feedback via the user’s hands while held. By changing the bumps, the surface can advise to the user the identity of an object in front of them, either by name or by shape, and if there are multiple items ahead of the user, the order that they will encounter the items.
The patent for people with sensory impairments, with reference to sensors that map the environment, potentially shows ideas that could be applied to a variety of technologies still being imagined.
“People use a variety of senses to navigate and interact with the various environments they encounter on a daily basis,” Apple states in its application. “For example, people use their senses of sight and sound to navigate in their homes, on the street, through workplaces and shopping centers, and so on. Such environments may be designed and configured under the assumption that people will be able to use senses such as sight and sound for navigation.”
“The present disclosure relates to guidance devices for sensory impaired users. Sensor data may be obtained regarding an environment. A model of the environment may be generated and the model may be mapped at least to an input/output touch surface. Tactile output and/or other output may be provided to a user based at least on the mapping. In this way, a sensory impaired user may be able to navigate and/or interact with an environment utilizing the guidance device.”
Apple is known for filing large numbers of patent applications on a weekly basis, with many not making their way into future commercial products, so it is unclear if such a system will become available for use in the future.