Big focus on devices for the disabled at A*Star's Media Exploits technology conference

ST PHOTO: MARK CHEONG
ST PHOTO: MARK CHEONG

It looks just like a pair of sunglasses but it would actually help the blind avoid dangers. Called inSIGHT, the glasses will be a device that the blind or visually impaired can wear to help them detect obstacles hanging from above.

"Blind people use a walking stick to move about but this detects only obstacles on the floor," said computer vision engineer Vignesh Ramkrishnan, one of three researchers from the Agency for Science, Technology and Research (A*Star) involved in the project.

The device will use ultrasound and thermal sensors to detect hanging obstacles and vibrate when these are detected. It will also have a voice recorder and a camera for face recognition.

It is one of the 53 technologies showcased at A*Star's annual Media Exploits technology conference and exhibition at the Biopolis today.

Other exhibitors at the conference include the National University of Singapore, Nanyang Technological University and Institute of Technical Education College West.

It is the first time that assistive technologies - these can range from motorised wheelchairs for the handicapped to braille reading surfaces for the blind - are one of the core themes of the exhibition, which is being held for the fourth time since 2011. The other themes include wearable technologies and gaming.

Mr Vignesh and his team came up with the idea for inSIGHT after interacting with blind individuals at an idea generation workshop in August.

"One of them told us that she once collided into the side mirror of a truck because her walking stick could not detect it, and she asked if we could invent something that could make life easier for her," said Mr Vignesh, 26. "As able-bodied people, we take for granted many of the things we live with on a daily basis."

Mr Philip Lim, chief executive of A*Star's technology transfer arm, Exploit Technologies, said: "Assistive technologies have a special place (here). They're not a come-and-go thing for us."

These concepts are being exhibited in the hope that investors would come on board and license the technologies.

The devices could hit the market in as soon as a year if everything goes well, said Mr Lim.

"(These ideas) will go through a few more iterations, but it's an important process and that's what innovation is all about,"he added.

dansonc@sph.com.sg