Researchers at NUI Galway’s Health Innovation via Engineering (HIVE ) Lab, led by Professor Derek O’Keeffe, have adopted the sophisticated sonar of bats to develop new technology to help people with visual impairment.
Using echolocation, the prototype, JediGlove, sends sequential micro-vibrations through the users’ fingers and thumb proportional to an object's distance, helping them sense obstacles in their path.
Derek O’Keeffe, professor of medical device technology at NUI Galway and consultant physician at University Hospital Galway, said; “We have nicknamed the device the JediGlove because it lets someone who is visually impaired ‘feel the force’ of objects in their environment.
“It is hugely innovative technology with significant potential. Not only can it help people with visual impairment but it could also have applications for first responders in emergency situations, like firemen and rescue teams entering buildings and environments that may have low visibility.”
The JediGlove uses ultrasound sensors, like a bat, to echo-locate obstacles. Then, using a bespoke algorithm, the technology sequentially activates micro-vibration motors in each finger of the glove to give the user immediate haptic feedback about objects, obstructions, or obstacles which they are approaching.
Professor O’Keeffe said: “This technology is a great example of patient centred care and interdisciplinary innovation. Traditionally with research we talk about a bench to bedside pathway. An idea is developed in a lab and then it goes to the patient for evaluation. What we are trying to do at NUI Galway is to change the paradigm and innovate from bedside to bench to bedside. So, we start first with the patient and identify the problems that matter to them and then we go to the lab to push the technological envelope to develop solutions to improve their care."
“During a clinic visit, one of my patients who has visual impairment mentioned that one of the most common navigation aids, a white cane, hadn’t changed much for over 100 years. It can also be both physically and socially burdensome to use.
“The prototype JediGlove came about after thinking through potential technological solutions that are more ergonomic for people with visual impairment.”
Professor O’Keeffe worked with Mouzzam Hussain, who is studying a master's in biomedical engineering at NUI Galway, to develop the concept.
Mr Hussain said; “The JediGlove has been an exciting project to be involved with – putting patients’ needs first in a way that allows me to use my hardware and software skills to help them in their daily routines. It is very gratifying to work on something that will directly benefit someone in such a unique and tangible way.”
Sinead Hanrahan, a patient with visual impairment, was one of the first to test the technology.
Ms Hanrahan said; “The JediGlove works really well and is a new way finding out what objects are around me - The potential is undoubtedly huge. There are so many technological solutions for other parts of my life but for mobility there’s only two options to help me be more independent – the cane and a guide dog.
“I don’t have a guide dog yet and I don’t particularly like the cane so it is nice to think I could have other options to help with my mobility. "Technology like this is a game changer - it would reduce the need for me to rely on other people. Down the line, when it is more refined, I think it will make a huge difference for people with visual impairment.”
The JediGlove technology has been developed in the spirit of Open Source Innovation and all documentation and files are shared in a publicly accessible repository: https://github.com/mouzzamqazi/JediGlove.