Researchers at NUI Galway's Health Innovation via Engineering (HIVE) Lab have incorporated a sophisticated sonar system inspired by bats into gloves to create the 'JediGlove', a wearable that assists the visually impaired.
"We have nicknamed the device the JediGlove because it lets someone who is visually impaired ‘feel the force’ of objects in their environment," explained Derek O’Keeffe, Professor of Medical Device Technology at NUI Galway, who worked on the project.
May the force be with you
Using echolocation, the prototype JediGlove sends sequential micro-vibrations out of sensors on the tips of the user's fingers and thumb. These are able to measure the distance to an object's distance, helping the gloves sense obstacle's in the wearer's path.
"Not only can [the JediGlove] help people with visual impairment but it could also have applications for first responders in emergency situations, like firemen and rescue teams entering buildings and environments that may have low visibility," O'Keefe, who is also Consultant Physician at University Hospital Galway, explained in the press release.
The smart gloves train a bespoke algorithm on the data picked up from its bat-like ultrasound echolocation sensors. The technology activates micro-vibration feedback motors in each finger of the glove to give the wearer immediate haptic feedback on an approaching object or obstruction.
"During a clinic visit, one of my patients who has visual impairment mentioned that one of the most common navigation aids, a white cane, hadn’t changed much for over 100 years. It can also be both physically and socially burdensome to use," O'Keefe explained.
A more ergonomic alternative to the white cane
Professor O'Keefe says that after taking into account his patient's words, the prototype was designed with potential technological solutions that are more ergonomic than the white cane for people with visual impairment.
The JediGlove prototype was developed with the help of Mouzzam Hussain, who is studying a Masters in Biomedical Engineering at NUI Galway. "The JediGlove has been an exciting project to be involved with – putting patients’ needs first in a way that allows me to use my hardware and software skills to help them in their daily routines," Hussain said.
The first patient with visual impairment to try the JediGlove was Sinead Hanrahan, who is pictured above wearing the glove.
"Technology like this is a game-changer," Hanrahan explained. "It would reduce the need for me to rely on other people. Down the line, when it is more refined, I think it will make a huge difference for people with visual impairment.”
The researchers say their JediGlove technology was "developed in the spirit of Open Source Innovation" and have shared all files and documentation of their work here via Github.