Google is testing an AI-powered app called Project Guideline that aims to help visually impaired and blind people work on their own without a guide dog or human assistant.
The app works by detecting lines drawn on the ground and guiding users with audio signals.
Project Guideline uses a phone’s camera to track directions and then sends audio signals to the user via headphones using bone conduction technology.
The app – which is still in the prototype stage – was developed during last year’s Google Hackathon when a blind runner asked developers to design a program that would allow it to run independently.
Thomas Panek, CEO of Guiding Eyes for the Blind, asked the designers at the Google Hackathon in Fall 2019 about technology potential to help blind people work independently.
A demo was designed to allow the phone to recognize the line drawn on the ground and give audio signals.
The app uses the camera of a phone connected to a Google artificial intelligence-designed belt worn by Banik to follow instructions on the line drawn on the ground and send it audio signals depending on its location.
“If I deviate to the left of the line, the sound rises more and more in my left ear, and if I diverges to the right, the same thing happens, but in my right ear,” Panik said.
Within a few months, and with some adjustments, Panek was able to run across an indoor track without assistance.
The developers then worked to adapt the technology to operate outdoors, where there is a whole new set of obstacles.
The Project Guideline app does not require an internet connection to work and can calculate weather conditions.
There are millions of people who are blind and miss guide dogs, and Google hopes the Project Guideline will be adapted and expanded to provide independence to more people.
Google is increasingly investing in accessibility technology, as in October it unveiled Sound Notifications, a new feature for Android that informs deaf users in the event of running water or a barking dog.
The feature was designed for about 466 million people worldwide with impaired hearing, but it may also help people who wear headphones.
The company has also expanded its Lookout app, which can read mail aloud and identify merchandise verbally.