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Design Concepts: Gadgets for the Visually Impaired

The Web is teeming with the unrealized ideas of both students and established designers who set out to produce astonishing renderings and prototypes for unusual products. Unfortunately, due to the lack of time, money, or technology, many of those products never progress from the planning stages to the mass market. But that doesn't mean we can't salivate over them, nevertheless.

According to the 2008 National Health Interview Survey Provisional Report, approximately 25 million Americans have reported significant vision loss. While this special-needs gamut runs from total blindness to mild visual impairment, designers recognize that a significant portion of the population requires alternate considerations. That's not to say that the impaired can't already do -- or do better -- many of the things that people with 20/20 vision can. We reported last week on the crazily courageous Mike Hanson, a blind hiker traversing the Appalachian trail with naught but a GPS device. Soon thereafter, a blind gamer put many of us sighted geeks to shame by beating the hell out of 'Ocarina of Time.' But, despite the fact that these two mavericks have helped smash the concept of "disability," we thought we'd compile a list of some rather awesome devices that we'd love to see go swiftly into production.

Communication & Navigation

B-Touch by Zhenwei You

Combining a book-reader, a navigation system, a camera-based object recognizer, and all of the features of a standard phone, the B-Touch is something of a marvel for the blind. The Braille interface changes according to the desired protocol, but it can also be operated with voice commands.

Project Bee by Tao Lin

Project Bee
is an interactive, GPS-enabled cuff that directs vision-impaired users with audio and haptic feedback. The predominantly voice-controlled device not only tells you where to go, but it can also pick up on RFID tags to locate products, hazards, and other data. Check out a fascinating demo here.

Tactility by Siwei Liu

Essentially the antithesis to B-Touch, the fantastically minimalist Tactility phone boasts a large but classy Braille interface. While the former is more iPhone, this one is more utility-oriented like the RAZR. Do you really need to surf the Internet while crossing the street with your walking stick? That kills enough sighted people as it is.


Braille Polaroid Camera by Son Seunghee, Lee Sukyung, and Kim Hyunsoo

This Red Dot Award-winning design seems just as cool for the sighted as for the blind. The Braille Polaroid Camera would ostensibly work on the same principles as standard photography, but would instead print out a series of raised dots in place of color densities. Feel the picture!

Camera for the Blind by Nadeem Haidary

Nadeem Haidary's Camera for the Blind suggests the ability to capture multiple types of memories. The digital camera takes still images like any other, but also records short audio clips attached to the image file. An audio story then accompanies each photo as the photographer scrolls back through the roll. Even better, this smart camera can send its vector data to laser cutters and 3-D printers -- in case you're hankering for a more tactile memento.

Touch Sight Camera by Chueh Lee

Similar to Haidary's design, the Touch Sight Camera records audio snippets as it's photographing. The key difference, however, is that the back of the Touch Sight is composed of a flexible Braille display that feeds back image data to the user. It's like a brilliant synthesis of the Braille Polaroid and Camera for the Blind, but we think each is fairly impressive even on its own.


Touch & Turn by Menno Kroezen

No one is saying that the blind can't cook for themselves, but not having vision when dealing with knives and open flames presents its own series of challenges. Menno Kroezen identified several of these challenges when designing the Touch & Turn, a device much like a Crock-Pot. The vessel stays cool to the touch on the outside, features sloped sides for easier dump-and-stirring, and rests on its own touch-directed panel for better temperature control.

Bright-F by Lifeng Yu

Not having the ability to distinguish color on one's own can be a significant challenge for the vision-impaired. Bright-F is a hand-held device that analyzes color according to saturation, brightness, and hue. The device then reads back the color to the user so that they can better choose clothing, read signage, and deal with any other tasks that require an interface with color-coding.

Braille E-Book by Seon-Keun Park, Byung-Min Woo, Sun-Hye Woo, and Jin-Sun Park

By utilizing electromagnetic signals to manipulate a responsive surface, the Braille E-Book brings the new fad of e-readers to the sight-challenged community. And for good reason; Braille books are larger, more expensive, and more difficult to find than standard tomes, so a Braille Kindle Store would actually make more sense than the regular one.

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