There are 300 million people who suffer some kind of visual impairment in the world, with forty million of them blind. These people suffer from reduced mobility and lack of independence, often leading a restricted indoors life - a considerable proportion of blind people are unwilling to leave their homes without an accompanying person. Those who dare navigate outdoors often suffer accidents that range from minor incidents (falls, hitting obstacles) to major incidents requiring hospitalization or even death. Also, the reduced independence to navigate outdoors and perform everyday tasks has a toll on their lives: over 60% of visually impaired adults in working age subjects are unemployed. (data from the US, https://nfb.org/blindness-statistics)
ShikAI is a navigation system for visually impaired. In collaboration with Tokyo Metro, we are developing an artificial assistant to help visually impaired individuals navigate metro stations as autonomously, safely and independently as normally sighted people.
*"shikAI" combines two concepts. In Japanese, "shikai" means field of vision. In English, AI refers to artificial intelligence. shikAI combines both concepts into one product.
QR-codes are first deployed at the metro station on top of the paving path for the visually impaired. The Qr-codes are exclusively installed on the dotted squares of the paving path. This allows the user to know when she is close to a QR-code.
When the user detects one of these dotted patterns in the path, she scans a QR-code using her smartphone. Our app then provides step by step instructions for navigation. The user can select from a list of destinations (every exit at the metro station, the ticket barrier, the toilet, a specific platform, etc) and start the navigation from any point in the station. She only needs to scan the QR-codes and follow the instructions to navigate from place to place.
※ shikAI application is made for iPhone and Android.
shikAI employs artificial intelligence to help the user navigate the metro stations. With a wearable camera, shikAI is able to register video from the metro environment and inform the user about the most important landmarks inside the premises: platform edges, escalators, elevators, ticket barriers, etc.
The information gathered by the artificial assistant is transmitted to the user via audio signals conveyed with a bone conduction device (which avoids the obstruction of environmental sounds that are important for orientation and navigation for visually impaired individuals). Currently, this system is in its beta phase of development. We plan to integrate the artificial assistant with the QR-code navigation system in the near future.