Microsoft Researchers have developed a device that makes virtual spaces accessible to blind and visually impaired users. The VR technology has made huge strides to become more immersive than ever.
Developments in VR have been mostly inaccessible to the visually impaired. The CaneTroller, a project by the Microsoft Research, is a hardware kit that can help the blind and visually impaired navigate virtual spaces.
The CaneTroller is a modified HTC Vive controller tethered to a brake mechanism. The brake mechanism allows the cane to simulate hitting objects. There is also a vibrating device on the cane, allowing for more refined haptic feedback like when rubbing the cane on a virtual carpet.
An HTC Vive headset is still used but the screens are kept off. The headset allows the system to track the user’s head position and provide three-dimensional audio feedback. When the cane hits a trash bin, sound feedback will also be in 3D.
Participants in the study were able to understand the virtual spaces they were put in and locating virtual items such as trash bins and chairs using a combination of tactile and auditory feedback.
The full research paper can be accessed here.
Traditional virtual reality (VR) mainly focuses on visual feedback, which is not accessible for people with visual impairments.
We created Canetroller, a haptic cane controller that simulates white cane interactions, enabling people with visual impairments to navigate a virtual environment by transferring their cane skills into the virtual world.
Canetroller provides three types of feedback:
(1) physical resistance generated by a wearable programmable brake mechanism that physically impedes the controller when the virtual cane comes in contact with a virtual object.
(2) vibrotactile feedback that simulates the vibrations when a cane hits an object or touches and drags across various surfaces.
(3) spatial 3D auditory feedback simulating the sound of real-world cane interactions.
We designed indoor and outdoor VR scenes to evaluate the effectiveness of our controller. Our study showed that Canetroller was a promising tool that enabled visually impaired participants to navigate different virtual spaces. We discuss potential applications supported by Canetroller ranging from entertainment to mobility training.