Bappy
Bappy is an assistive mobility device for visually impaired people who need better help navigating outdoors with a better sense of their surrounding. The devices works with ultrasonic sensors having the same concept as bats and it is giving the person haptic feedback which allows a good sense of undersanding of what is passing by in their way when they are walking.
The key factor in this research was the many rounds of user testing (see details           ). Only through that was I able to understand what needed to be changed in the initial idea or else no one would wear the device. 
 
The device should also look appealing and the electronics should be hidden as much as possible so that the person wearing it could not only have confidence of being able to walk in a safer manner, but also in a happier one. 
here

 Knowing that bats cannot see and they live their whole lives in darkness, how could we describe the perception of the world they have considering that they use different senses than us? Is it considered brilliant or hindering? These questions are probably not possible to be answered when we are looking at them through our own perception of the world as we know it. The reason is simply because we don’t know what we cannot perceive. Yet lately there have been some technological advancement that have allowed us to actually surpass the points of our limiting senses and dwell into a world that was not “fitting” for us. While some insects and animals see ultraviolet rays, some have sonar and others get to understand their surrounding through feeling the electromagnetic field around them, humans have started to create devices that allow them to see what was considered unseen earlier. There are natural ways that people have discovered to overcome part of the disability of being blind but there is also some technological advancement that could also empower someone who is visually impaired. The device I am proposing is an electronic mobility device that enables anyone who is visually impaired to navigate the streets with a better sense of their surrounding. 

Most of the devices that were developed to see something that was considered unseen were developed by armies to make them more advanced and knowledgeable of something that their enemy does not know. Yet these discoveries later become available to the enemy as well and they then become public as they are no longer special. Somewhere along this line, some people tend to take these discoveries and discover usages for them that are beneficial rather than harmful for humanity as a whole. Another interesting aspect is that people tend to find extremely different usages of the same device and they develop to later become a solution for various problems that are not even related to each other. 

After doing some investigation in the field of visual disabilities, it became obvious that there are numerous types of visual disabilities. There are cases related to light distinction, some are for the people who were born blind and have never seen in their lives while others are actually gradually losing their vision and are expecting blindness at a specific time. Knowing this helps in being able to pinpoint where exactly the problem is that needs intervention and that actually might be feasible to make. Knowing that there are some people who are losing their vision gradually or are having temporary blindness, a solution could be proposed not to replace their eyes of course, but to at least give them a sense of the objects around them and how far they are from them.
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It is known that what we see is a mere reflection of light on objects which our eyes absorb and give to our brain as data but the brain transforms them back into objects and people. So seeing is basically the ability of the brain to transfer data into shapes and locations. Some people have been able to “see” with their ears as they use echolocation just like the bats and are able to know the presence of a certain object in a specific location while saying that the object should be bigger than a softball and the location could be detected up to 50 feet away. Others, however, were not yet able to acquire a similar capability of recognizing the presence of objects around them and how far they actually are. And so in this case the device could work as a good translator between the objects in the surrounding environment and the brain, which will be able to recognize the data and know how far an object is just by the vibration on parts of the body skin. 



 
The people who are targeted by this project are obviously visually impaired people who want to be independent while at the same time not being at high risk of injury and also want to get a better understanding of what is around them. For some people who are visually impaired the idea of navigating the world with a stick has become very normal to them and they got used to it after years of training that they can now walk as fast as any person who can actually see. However, at the beginning of the learning process in which the person is trying to adapt with the new situation that is definitely frightening, knowing if there is an object around them that they might bump into could be really helpful. The reason why many people who are visually impaired depend on the cane or the dog which are the most famous assistive devices is because they can tell them the levels on the ground. But then again you have to take care of the dog which is also not an easy thing for a visually impaired person. 
Other attempts to make the most effective device were done before using the same technology of the ultrasonic sound. However, few of these attempts were actually user centered and based on the feedback of the users which made it hard for the users to accepts considering the cyborg look they will have while wearing this device. Here are some examples of attempts that were to be worn as helmets or as shoes.
 
This device could also work even better for people who have poor eyesight and also do not have a good hearing ability. While this is probably not very common, some people still do not have both senses working properly. Having that will restrain them from being able to learn the echolocation technique other visually impaired people are currently using. In this case the device could be an excellent source of information to the brain.
 
This device should also be inexpensive considering that most electronic mobility devices are extremely expensive. One of the ideas that could cross our minds is adding a GPS for navigation, which enables the visually impaired person to be able to know the directions they are supposed to walk to as well. However, this idea was not welcomed by the people being interviewed and the ones who did the user testing because they said it would take away the only sense they can actually depend on more than any other. While this device might not be a replacement for the cane or the dog upon which most people who are blind depend, it could be an essential addition to them having the cane or dog combined with the device make the data that transmits to the brain much more accessible and clearer to be shaping the specific environment and objects around them and how they relate to the user. The device will surely need some calibration before being used, but once the person adapts with the vibration speed and direction it should be very easy to use. 
 
The first round of user testing appears to have been the most important one of them although it did not even include half of the information received after the rest of the rounds. However, the reason that made it so special was the idea of doing user testing in itself and engaging directly with the user and understating that it should be tailored to their needs and wants.  

In this round, the association called Visions was visited and they were very pleasant and welcoming the idea. Fist I took an appointment with a visually impaired person working there called Mark who is about 50 years old and was born blind. When I later met him, he invited a colleague of his called Valerie, which is also visually impaired but she lost her vision when she was 18 and she is now around 30 years old. They gave a lot of feedback, answered a lot of questions and were very helpful. Part of the feedback that was received from this experience The dog and the cane basically have the same function as they both detect obstacles, holes, curves or stairs on the way and they are irreplaceable for now due to personal attachment and also the ability to detect surfaces. Mike believes the vibrating motor is the best way that can transfer the data to the mind as the smelling and tasting are probably not that helpful and the hearing is already overloaded. 

The worst problems for Mike and Valerie in navigating the streets are the pedestrians, venders, basement doors, construction noise and not knowing where the cars are coming from if they are walking parallel to the street. Mike believes the GPS will not be useful as they use the phone GPS and it will take a whole new interface to be created in order to make it work .He said it needs to be with sound and then if the device replies through the headphones it could be loud around them so they will not hear what is being said and they might miss their location. Or they will have to turn up the volume and by that almost eliminating the most important sense they are depending on. What was sure is that every person who loses their sight has a different strategy of navigating the world and that makes it difficult to make a device that unifies their strategies. 

Valerie also noted that every one who is visually impaired is different in the sense that some of them were born blind while some of them had sight for a long time and depended on it. In her case she was seeing well for the first 17 years in her life and that made her a person who depends on the visuals. So she said until now if someone is describing something to her she still visualizes it as if she was seeing it with her eyes although this might be misleading to her. 

They did not know about the Batman and they thought it is a very cool idea but it is not one that functions everywhere because environments are different and it is not something that they could depend on. But at the same time they still did not believe electronic devices are the best replacement or solution to the problem. Both of them agreed that it will not solve the problem but it could definitely help in assisting people and also maybe specific ones more (if someone is also deaf or if they have a deteriorating eyesight but they know blindness is inevitable then it could be of great assistance to them)

I did a mistake only a beginner makes which is that the size of the belt was not going to fit Mike. He tried the hand-mounted piece for the short range but he said it was not that useful as he will still have to touch afterwards to know where exactly the thing is. When they both held the belt in their hands they could both feel the difference of the distance an object was close to or away from and they said it will definitely help identify the distance an object is away from them. But they both also agreed that if it looks stupid then no one will want to wear it and they mentioned an example of someone who did something that is close to that but it was a helmet so no one actually liked it. Some of the similar things that were heard of is a device close to a pulsar that is mounted on the neck (also using vibrating motor) 

But overall they liked the idea and they gave me some references I should look at and also some names of organizations who do that and also who to be looking for there (the rehabilitation team as they will have all the information about the different types of blind people rather than getting the opinion of everyone individually). Mike even gave me his card at the end and told me to contact him if I needed anything else. 


The second round of user testing was with Marie and J. C. who work at the Helen Keller organization and they are from the rehabilitation and orientation department. This was also advised by Mike and Valerie since they said we know what we have experienced but people who work in the rehabilitation or orientation have seen much more cases that are different and have different needs. 
The image on the right is for different types of canes for different levels of visual disability. The one with the big round base is for scratching it to the ground and it is actually rotating to be smooth with the person is moving it right and left. The other one with the smaller tip is one for people who are not completely blind but they still cannot see very well so they do not make the cane touch the ground it is more of a warning to other people. 
The image on the left is for different types of canes for different levels of visual disability. The one with the big round base is for scratching it to the ground and it is actually rotating to be smooth with the person is moving it right and left. The other one with the smaller tip is one for people who are not completely blind but they still cannot see very well so they do not make the cane touch the ground it is more of a warning to other people. 
One of the most important points that has come up while doing user testing is that the users feel more comfortable walking with the cane because it detects the surface they are about to walk into and every step in the way. This makes the belt a piece of a set that should be used with either the cane or the dog. This idea will result in inevitable adjustments to the location of the sensors and how one should wear it. 

 
Taking into consideration the feedback I got from the first and second round of user testing, it was evident that the idea of the belt around the waist is not a smart one because the cane movement interferes with the range of the ultrasonic sensor considering that it is on the same level. Also what was important to notice is that visually impaired people do not care about what is behind them but they care mostly about what is in their way. This makes perfect sense because even people who are not visually impaired can still not see what is behind them so it was pointless to make the device detect the 360° around them. And so it appears it is best if the belt is moved upwards in some way and be only pointing forwards and getting information from what is in front of the person wearing it. This is when it was moved to be a belt that is crossing the chest diagonally and it had two sensors connected to it one of them pointing downward and the other pointing at the shoulder level. 

 
On the day where we were supposed to do the third round of user testing in which we got the feedback of our colleagues and teachers in our program, luckily an idea of a new design passed by on the subway and I was able to sketch it to also get the feedback about it from this user testing session. The new design was having something close to suspenders in they way it looks and functions. The idea is to have them be as subtle as possible and have the person wearing them feel confident that they will not be viewed as a cyborg but rather have it be fashionable and matching with what the person is wearing. If covered by cloth or fabric, this design will allow the electronics to be completely hidden and no one will probably expect what is happening behind these suspenders. Their width and thickness should be less than an inch and the length should depend on the size of the person wearing it. 
 More than ten people tested the diagonal belt and there are many remarks they said that will be taken into consideration as well. One that appears to be very important and was not noticed earlier is that when I change the device from being a belt around the waist to be chest mounted I did not take into consideration the biological difference between males and females. A colleague told me that she is not feeling the vibration being accurate and also the direction in which the sensor was looking was altered based on the chest size. This was very helpful to know because we talked about it and we got to a new idea for a female version that could be close to a chest harness, which she also told me is becoming fashionable lately, and modify it so that it works with the same idea but it has the sensors all at one part which is right under the Clavicle bone. 
Female version sketch through feedback
Another user testing was later done with Dr. Stanley Wainapel who is a professor of Clinical Physical Medicine & Rehabilitation. He also happens to be the chief of the Physical Medicine & Rehabilitation department at Montefiore Medical Center. Aside from that, Dr. Wainapel is visually impaired as well. Waiting for Dr. Wainapel in the reception, I saw patients going in and out from his room and I heard his voice and I saw him move around which actually made me doubt that he is visually impaired. What was really surprising was when I went into his room and he asked me to setup my device until he sends an email. It was just amazing how fast the computer talked and it was almost impossible for me to understand a single word of what it was saying. He was writing the email and the computer was just reading what he was writing to make sure what he wrote was correct. It was so fast that when he wanted me to write down a link he thought I would understand what the computer was saying, but he actually had to make the computer spell each letter so that I am able to hear it. This was also an assurance for me that senses can be trained and they vary incredibly from one person to the other. Also it made me realize the idea of focus and how this could enable the person to absorb and channel different information through their senses on different levels according to the distraction caused by the environment, or in this case another sense.

 

Dr. Stanley did not wait for a long time and he immediately asked me to try the device. When he first wore it, the surprise was obvious and I was able to see how different this felt to him, probably also because of him having a stronger touching sense as well. I had seen him already go in and out of the room a couple of times and he used to touch the wall and walk until he reaches the door but this time the exact thing happened but without having to extend his arm. I had set the sensors to work on 3 feet, which is almost the length of an arm, and this allowed him to walk without needing to extend it. He also went outside in the reception with the device to navigate the room and the reactions of the people there was just great. While some people observed silently what was going on, others like the secretary told him “you look like a Christmas tree” because I had LED lights connected to the motor to tell me if it is working properly or not. At this point he told me something that appears to be extremely valuable as well which is that having more than one sensor next to each other gave him not only a sense of how far the object is away from him, but also how big the object is. By scanning through the room he told me he was able to know where the first one started and kept vibrating until the other sensor detected the object and vibrated as well so this translated automatically into telling him this is the width of the object he is facing. This actually makes perfect sense and it was really good to notice as it also encouraged me to try to make it with six sensors instead of four to give an even wider range and enable the person to have more accurate determination of the location and the size of the object. When asked how accurate do you think the object detection should be he said “It doesn’t matter to have object detection as long as you don’t bump into them”. 

He later explained that there are many types of blindness but the two that are most dominant are Glaucoma (in which the person has central vision but is not able to have any peripheral vision) and peripheral or angle vision (makes people better in walking outdoors since they still have slight peripheral vision). Dr. Staley had Glaucoma and as he was losing his vision he was actually at some point still able to read but not able to walk or do outdoor activities properly. This also allowed me to have a better sense of who exactly I am making this for. He also told me that after stroke one loses visual field (sometimes temporarily) which could be a good chance for the device as well to enable people to temporarily work their way around and be able to move and have an understanding of their surrounding. 

When asked about the difference between the dog and the cane he told me when a friend of his, who has a service dog passes by and they walk together it usually faster than anyone else walking normally. The dog appears to be of amazing assistance and he also told me they are trained to the extent that they obey their masters in everything but if they receive a wrong order (making a wrong turn) they will disobey the master. This appears to be an amazing tool for people to use and it is shocking how smart the service dogs can be. This naturally led me to ask Dr. Wainapel why he does not have a dog? His answer was simply “you don’t have to take a cane out to poop”. 

He also later gave me some very good feedback and when asked about having it adjustable according to the density of people around the person he said it would be a great idea that is very useful. He added that there could also be an indoor and an outdoor setting (aside from the potentiometer or be the same as well) because going to a new hotel room for example could be annoying as well.


Some things he referred to me were:

NFB.org, Orcan.com, Freedom scientific devices, Lighthouse (he said he can connect me with people there)

 
The latest design after this meeting is showed in the sketch below in which it will be almost like having two ultrasonic sensors attached to each suspender and also having two sensors between them. This could hopefully give a better sense of the object, be above the cane level and also look fine if it was covered with nice fabric. 
So it appears that user testing is the most important aspect in trying to deliver a product to a specific audience especially if it is solving a problem for them. These might not be the best type of sensors for this product as the light sensors work better in the absence of sunlight and the laser sensor would probably be better than both of them. However, the laser sensor is much more expensive and the light sensor is not to depend on when one is doing outdoor activity in the morning, which is obviously a very important part of the day. The next steps will be trying to find a type of sensor that fits best with the purpose and a mapping technique that will allow it to deliver the best type of information and data to the brain of the person wearing it in order to be processed and translated into a visual experience. In a study done by David Eagleman there were more than thirty vibrating motors attached to a vest that allowed people who are deaf to actually make sense of what the word might by according to the vibration it gets. What is noticeable in that experiment aside from the ability to acquire new senses depending on the data input, it was also not disturbing or confusing to have thirty sensors attached to the vest. 
This is how it looks like indoors and I have tried it personally with different colors and a different type of mapping. It was close to the last one having the closer objects appear hotter than the ones further away. The one I tried had shades of black and white and it was detecting all the distances in the room with gradients (meaning that in this picture the green person would have different shades of green as well). So if we can imagine having this image and dividing it into a grid of 6x5 squares and map thirty vibrating motors to these squares, have them vibrate according the average depth of each light in the squares and give the feedback to a vest full of motors it could probably give a much better understanding of what is around the person. In order to be able to do that, it would probably be a good idea to start getting some funding for it considering that there is a functioning prototype that could be tested now and it can be developed to a much more sophisticated level. The New Challenge appears to be one of the good findings that could be received especially since it is almost exclusive to The New School students. Other fundraising activities will be done for it as well including kickstarters and other opportunities. The device should also look appealing and the electronics should be hidden as much as possible so that the person wearing it could not only have confidence of being able to walk in a safer manner, but also in a happier one. 
Works Cited

 

Eagleman, David. Can we create new sense for humans?

https://www.ted.com/talks/david_eagleman_can_we_create_new_senses_for_humans?language=en

 

Helen Keller. Services for the blind.

http://www.helenkeller.org

 

Montefiore medical center.

http://www.montefiore.org

 

Visions. Services for the blind and visually impaired. http://www.visionsvcb.org/visions/