Booz Allen Interns are Creating Tools to Help the Blind Navigate New Environments

Aug 2, 2016 3:00 PM ET

The following post is part of a series of stories written by Booz Allen Hamilton’s Summer Games interns. The opinions and views expressed in this article are the author's own and do not reflect the views of Booz Allen.

By Roshan Daniel

On January 9, 2011, students from Virginia Tech saw a car they created being driven around the Daytona International Speedway by a blind man – President of the National Federation of the Blind (NFB), Mark Riccobono.  Lead Robotics Engineer at Booz Allen Hamilton Paul D’Angio, came up with the idea as a student. He then re-introduced the Blind Navigation Project to this year’s Booz Allen Hamilton’s Summer Games Internship Program, when brainstorming project ideas.

The need for a project focused on such a large American demographic, is great. That’s why our team, Blind Navigation, is working hard to develop technologies that can help solve this important challenge.

There currently exists a stark lack of knowledge in the sighted community on what the blind can, and cannot do. One of the goals of the NFB is to change that. NFB representatives pointed out to us one of the challenges that persists in the blind community that we might address: navigation and area recognition. 

Global Positions System (GPS) technologies are an effective solution outdoors, but need to be paired with some kind of camera or sensor for real time obstacle detection and object recognition. A GPS will also not function indoors, meaning, some variation of path planning needs to be included. 

Obstacle detection, 3D mapping, path planning, and object recognition are all functionalities we are testing. The major challenge, though, is finding a way to communicate all the necessary information to a blind person without giving them the feeling of being led around. Booz Allen gave us a 3D camera and a credit card sized supercomputer to help solve this challenge.  While we are still in the preliminary phase, we’re focusing on a combination of 3D imaging, computer vision, and machine learning to make a difference for the blind community.

Our team is diverse. We’re computer scientists, biologists and have five different types of engineering expertise: mechanical, aerospace, electrical, systems, and computer. Though our academic background is technical in nature, we all have experience in solving real world problems and being able to communicate our solution.   And the most important thing we have in common is our excitement about the prospect of empowering the disabled community. Learn more about the inception of the project here.

Roshan Daniel is an undergraduate student studying mechanical and aerospace engineering at West Virginia University and a Booz Allen intern based in Washington, D.C.