German AI company AiServe is developing a machine learning system to help blind and visually impaired people find their way safely around towns and cities.
The company was founded in 2017 by CEO Gustavo Madico to combine computer vision, artificial intelligence (AI), and wearable hardware to make walking safely and independently accessible to everybody, via simple devices that the user talks to, and receives instructions from.
The new device would combine AI and location services with a camera, computer vision system, microphone, and earphones.
The market is certainly large and underserved, says the company. Globally, 253 million are thought to be living with vision problems, according to the World Health Organisation, with blindness affecting 36 million of those (14 percent).
AiServe estimates that one in three seniors will suffer from a visual impairment that prevents them from navigating safely, reinforcing recent research which says that ageing people in ageing cities will be the big challenge for Western economies over the next 20 years. According to the WHO, 81 percent of blind or visually impaired people are aged over 50.
In the UK, over two million people are thought to suffer from sight loss, with 360,000 (18 percent of visually disabled people) registered as blind or partially sighted. By 2050, the number will soar to nearly four million visually impaired citizens, according to the Royal National Institute for the Blind (RNIB), as the population ages and problems such as diabetes and obesity rise.
In the US, an estimated 7.3 million people suffer from a visual disability. If 14-18 percent of those are blind or partially sighted, then that equates to over one million citizens.
Meanwhile, AiServe’s own research estimates that nearly 70 percent of the $40 billion assistive technology market in the US alone is dedicated to visual impairment aids, few of which help people get from A to B safely.
Clearly, therefore, the company has identified a sizeable market opportunity to build a wearable machine learning system that, in the company’s words, “learns how to walk like a human” – not by aping human mobility, but by learning to identify the visual cues that sighted people recognise easily in cities, such as buildings, paths, street furniture, pavements/sidewalks, kerbs, and corners.
As the system learns over time by acquiring more and more data, the computer vision system will be able to map city blocks and neighbourhoods and give satnav style-instructions to the wearer, such as “Walk straight ahead for 100 feet.”
AiServe plans to release production models in the UK and Germany by next summer.
Internet of Business says
AiServe’s isn’t the only solution in town for visually impaired people. For example, earlier this year Microsoft released the iOS app Soundscape, which uses GPS and mapping data to generate audio instructions. Meanwhile, the Indiegogo-funded Sunu Inc has produced a wearable band that uses sonar/ultrasonic technology to detect objects and heighten user perception of their environment.
The combination of wearable devices and AI has been a major development hotspot in 2018, as these recent Internet of Business reports explain:-
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