Jul 02, 2022 Last Updated 09:46 AM EDT

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Researchers are developing robotic hand-worn to help the blind to “see”

Dec 21, 2015 06:00 AM EST

Researchers from the University of Nevada, Reno (UNR) and the University of Arkansas, Little Rock (UALR) announced that they are collaborating to develop hand-worn robotic device to help navigate blind and visually impaired people. The glove-like robotic device will allow the blind to avoid movable obstacles and improve their ability to pre-locate, pre-sense and grasp an object.

According to Reno Gazette-Journal, the researchers team from UNR's College of Engineering received an $820,000 National Robotics Initiative (NRI) grant for three years from the National Institutes of Health. This is the first NRI grant received by the University.

The lead researcher Professor Yantao Shen said that the technology will contribute to the lives of visually impaired people by enabling them to identify the objects for navigational purposes. The technology will also allow the blind to move object for more simple things such as grasping a door handle or picking up the glass.

Yantao Shen has been conducting research in the areas of  bioinstrumentation and automation, biomechatronics or robotics, sensors and actuators, and tactile or haptic interfaces. He has published more than 100 research journals and he has been supported by federal agencies including the National Science Foundation and NASA to conduct the research.

According to Northern Nevada Business Weekly, Yantao Shen and his partner Cang Ye, a professor at the UALR's Department of System Engineering, will guide the researcher team in developing the technology. The team will be supported by postdoctoral, graduate and undergraduate students from both universities.

Shen said that the team will pre-map the hand, and build a fitting device in lightweight form that attaches to the hand using key locations for cameras and mechanical and electrical sensors so the visually impaired people can grasp an object without having to feel around for it.

The device would guide the user like a magnetic pull, and give them direction audibly. The hand-worn device would combine tactile and temperature sensors, high resolution cameras and miniaturized microphones, Engadget reported.

The sensors will help describing the shape of the object to the hand when it is close to the object, while the high resolution cameras will be used to detect nearby objects and obstacles. The technology will give the information about the item's location, size, and shape, which then relayed to the wearer via haptic and audio feedback.

Although the technology is being developed as an aid to assist the blind, Shen said that it has great potential to be used in space exploration, military surveillance, law enforcement, and in search and rescue mission.

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