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IBM's latest app helps visually impaired users stand in socially distanced lines

An IBM researcher said that participants in the trial gave the system a high usability score, while reporting higher confidence and comfortableness when they were standing in line.

Social distancing is the new normal. Social distancing is the new normal.
Social distancing is the new normal. (Unsplash)

Nearly one and a half year after the novel coronavirus was first detected, countries in various parts of the world are still implementing rolling lockdowns and curfews while encouraging mask-wearing and social distancing. While these are designed to prevent the spread of the virus, people with disabilities may have difficulty observing these rules in public places.

Also read: Starbucks app improves accessibility features for visually impaired users: Report

A team of researchers at IBM is working to change that, with the help of the new LineChaser application, using AI to help visually impaired people maintain a safe distance from others around them, as spotted by SlashGear. Instead of relying on a single camera, the app uses data from two sensors to help users measure the distance between themselves and the person in front of them.

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Using software to make use of information captured by the device’s RGB and infrared depth sensors, to keep track of people in their surroundings – the former is used to detect people nearby, while the infrared sensor is used to measure their distance from the user. It then provides them with audio and haptic feedback. On the basis of these responses, visually impaired users can then decide whether they need to move forward in a line or stay put.

According to the IBM researcher Hironobu Takagi, the app was tested on participants with various disabilities and helped all of them successfully managed to reach the end of a line, while visually impaired users were able to stop at an ‘acceptable position’ 91.7 percent of the time if they were following a line. Takagi also said that participants in the trial gave the system a high usability score, while reporting higher confidence and comfortableness when they were standing in line.

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“We hope that more visually impaired people can benefit from our technology. We also hope that with time, the social acceptance of the use of camera devices in public spaces will improve. We found the acceptance was already high if a blind person used a device for assistive purposes, but we think that as a society, we need to improve our understanding of such technologies,” Takagi said.

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