Self-driving tech borrowed to help the blind


Leti Inspex crossing

Portable and wearable, multi-sensor and low-power spatial-exploration and obstacle-detection systems will be created for all-weather use, said French research lab Leti. Robotics, drones, smart manufacturing and distance measurement are other  potential uses.

“It will be used for real-time, 3D detection, location and warning of obstacles under all environmental conditions,” said Leti. “These include smoke, dust, fog, heavy rain, snow and darkness, and in indoor and outdoor environments with unknown stationary and mobile obstacles.”

Nine partners are involved in the three-year project, bringing expertise in lidar, ultra-wide-band radar and MEMS ultrasound sensing with them.

Coordinated by Leti, and called INSPEX, one aim is to miniaturise and reduce the power consumption of these sensors. They will then be integrated with an inertial measurement unit, environmental sensing, wireless communications, signal processing, data processing, data fusion and a user interface “designed to operate within wider smart and IoT environments”, said Leti.

The main project demonstrator will be a white cane for the visually impaired and provide 3D spatial audio feedback on obstacle location through an augmented reality audio interface through extra-auricular earphones.

“This feedback will take into account head attitude, tracked by the headset, to provide 3D spatial sound feedback of an obstacle’s real direction and range,” said Leti. “The context-aware communications will integrate the user with wider smart environments such as smart traffic lights, navigation beacons and ID tags associated with IoT objects. The user’s mobile device will allow integration with, for example, mapping apps.”

With Leti in the project are:

  • University of Manchester, UK
  • Cork Institute of Technology, Ireland
  • STMicroelectronics SRL, Italy
  • Swiss Center for Electronics and Microtechnology CSEM, Switzerland
  • Tyndall National Institute University College Cork, Ireland
  • University of Namur ASBL, Belgium
  • GoSense, France
  • SensL Technologies Ltd., Ireland



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