A team at Ohio State University, along with the city of Columbus and private companies, is using smart, connected tech to help the blind and visually impaired navigate.
MetroLab’s Executive Director Ben Levine interviewed John Lannutti, professor of materials science engineering at Ohio State University; Mary Ball-Swartwout, orientation and mobility specialist at the Ohio State School for the Blind; and Josh Collins, chief technology officer at Intelligent Material.
John Lannutti, said, “The goal of “smart paint for networked smart cities” is to assist people who are blind and visually impaired by implementing a “smart paint” technology that provides accurate location services. You might think, “Can’t GPS do that?” But, surprisingly, current GPS-based solutions actually cannot tell whether somebody is walking on the sidewalk or down the middle of the street. Meanwhile, modern urban intersections are becoming increasingly complex. That means that finding a crosswalk, aligning to cross and maintaining a consistent crossing direction while in motion can be challenging for people who are visually impaired.”
“And of course, crosswalks aren’t the only challenge. For example, our current mapping technologies are unable to provide the exact location of a building’s entrance. We have a technology solution to those challenges. Smart paint is created by adding exotic light-converting oxides to standard road paints. The paint is detected using a “smart cane,” a modified white cane that detects the smart paint and enables portal-to-portal guidance. The smart cane can also be used to notify vehicles — including autonomous vehicles — of a user’s presence in a crosswalk.”
Intelligent Material — manufactures and supplies the unique light-converting oxides that make the paint “smart.
Mary Ball-Swartwout: At Ohio State School for the Blind said, “We work with students of all ages and abilities. OSSB’s orientation and mobility team, which includes me, Phil Northrop and Rachel Smith, is very familiar with the challenges our students face in navigating cities. Orientation and mobility training is essential for students’ navigation within the outside world, but we are always searching for additional technologies that could make our students’ travel more efficient. When Ohio State University and Intelligent Material approached us, our team was very interested because their technology better integrated into the modern world than past products. None of the prior products have created a lasting benefit for many of our students, and we enthusiastically support any new tools that help our students to enhance travel skills.”
Ball-Swartwout added, “One of the great things about smart paint is that it can be added to the built environment easily at little extra cost. We expect that once smart paint is widely adopted, most sighted users will not notice much difference as smart paint is not visually different from regular road paint. Some intersections might need to have more paint features that enable smart white cane-guided entry from the sidewalk into the crosswalk. Paint that tells users that they have reached their destination may become visible as horizontal stripes along modern sidewalks. These paints could be either gray or black or even invisible to sighted pedestrians, but would still be detectable by “smart” white canes to tell users that they have arrived at their destination.”
“We are preparing for a proposal submission to the National Science Foundation at the end of February. We are looking for considerable support from industry particularly in the area of software development. We believe that with the right partner this idea can easily create a “Google Maps for People who are Blind,” thereby increasing the travel abilities of a wide range of individuals who have disabilities,” Lannutti said.