Helping visually impaired persons navigate the world around them is a noble mission indeed. We wrote recently about work at Caltech using augmented reality with Microsoft HoloLens to help blind people navigate. Envision Glasses use an AI platform with an 8MB camera, a version of Google Glass smart eyewear with an included earpiece, and smartphone app to assist blind people with a wide range of functions from color matching to recognizing friends’ faces. Second Sight Medical Products recently announced FDA approval to use its Argus 2S Retinal Prosthesis System with the company’s retinal implant system to directly stimulate the visual cortex to restore sight to people with retinal damage.

Jagadish K. Mahendran, an AI developer with University of Georgia’s Institute for Artificial Intelligence, recently published a video of Mira, a voice-activated AI-powered backpack for visually impaired people. The backpack employs Intel’s AI technology using a host computing unit paired with a vest-mounted Luxonis OAK-D spatial AI Camera. The camera operates with Intel’s Movidius VPU (vision processing unit) and Intel’s open source distribution OpenVINO toolkit for AI-guided computer vision inferencing. OpenVINO is an acronym for Open Visual Inference and Neural Network Optimization.

The Luxonis OAK-D camera has three viewports: one for 4K color images and two for a real-time stereo depth map. In practice, as Mahendran demonstrates in the video, the wearer can interact with the vision inferencing system via a Bluetooth-connected earphone. The user can ask questions about their current location and save location-based notes. The system also can alert the wearer to street signs, curbs, crosswalks, entryways, staircases, and more. With the Mira backpack, a visually impaired person can navigate city street sidewalks with confidence with the system ready to give audio alerts about overhanging tree limbs, elevation changes, moving objects, and other obstacles.

It’s truly exciting to see implementations of complementary technologies that can make significant differences in basic human functions and quality-of-life.