Friday, October 17, 2008

Blind Sight: A camera for visually impaired people

In the time before I became blind, I always had a camera around. Since my accident, that hasn’t changed. These later cameras were usually for capturing images that could be later shared with those of the light-dependent persuasion, but it was also a method for grabbing some memories for myself. The thing was, the pictures were always only as good to me as the descriptive abilities of the person telling me about them.

In my experience, most blind people tend to use cameras, which I do think is interesting. Even though we can’t see the photos, we do like to have them to capture special moments and share with family and friends.

Somebody else has taken note of that and worked to create
Touch Sight: a camera for the blind.

I originally learned about this product through an email, but looked it up online. Here’s some information from the web site.

“Touch Sight is a revolutionary digital camera designed for visually impaired people. Simple features make it easy to use, including a unique feature which records sound for three seconds after pressing the shutter button. The user can then use the sound as reference when reviewing and managing the photos.
Touch Sight does not have an LCD but instead has a lightweight, flexible Braille display sheet which displays a 3D image by embossing the surface, allowing the user to touch their photo. The sound file and picture document combine to become a touchable photo that is saved in the device and can be uploaded to share with others–and downloaded to other Touch Sight cameras.”

One interesting aspect discovered by Chueh in his research is that holding the camera to the forehead is the optimal position for this device. He discovered that “at the Beit Ha’iver (Center for the Blind) in Herzliya, Israel, the instructor who teaches a photography course for the visually impaired discovered that holding the camera to the forehead, like a third eye, is the best way for them to stabilize and aim the camera. The instructor also found the visually impaired have no problems estimating distances, since their sense of hearing is especially sharp. Every rustle of wind in the trees catches their attention and can be used to judge distances. Other senses come into play as well. The heat of the sun or a lamp in a living room, for example, signals a direct source of light. They regularly use their non-visual senses to feel the world and manifest it into a mental photograph.”

After reading that information, there are some thoughts that occur to me about this camera.

*The sound recording is a good idea to give a contextual reference to the picture. I’m not sure that three seconds gives enough time to say much, but I’m certain that can be tweaked in future revisions of the product. And, the recorder being activated with the shutter means the person taking the picture needs to think about what to say before engaging the shutter.

*I like the ability to share the files. It might mean uploading the files for others to share, but wouldn’t it be great if it included BlueTooth by design?

*The display with refreshable Braille makes me think this will not be cheap. Given the cost of existing Braille displays for electronics, I shudder to think what this will mean for the price of this device.

*And, being that cameras take only two-dimensional photos, I’m supposing there will be some limitations of the pictures that this camera can render and display in Braille. Unless the Braille display gives some depth in the height of the cells, there will be no depth perception, but only a raised line drawing.

Still, this is a big leap in a direction that might seem contrary to most folks. Then again, most folks haven’t been around gatherings of blind people such as annual conventions of the national blindness advocacy groups or at classes at the various guide dog schools. If so, they would know that blind people often have and use cameras, even if they can’t see the pictures they take. That might be history as this product evolves.

No comments: