Adaptive Tools

Below are few adaptive tools and techniques that can be used by the visually impaired for taking photographs. 

Camera for the Blind 

Paradoxical as it sounds, the Touch Sight camera makes it possible for the visually impaired to take pictures. The photographer holds the camera up to his or her forehead, and a Braille-like screen on the back makes a raised image of whatever the lens sees. The Touch Sight camera was named among Time Magazine’s Best Inventions of 2008. 

  

   

Designed by Chueh Lee from Samsung China, the camera aims to provide a means of recording the mental photograph that the visually-impaired create of their surroundings using senses other than sight. Simple features make it easy to use, including a unique feature which records sound for three seconds after pressing the shutter button. The user can then use the sound as reference when reviewing and managing the photos. Touch Sight does not have an LCD but instead has a lightweight, flexible Braille display sheet which displays a 3D image by embossing the surface, allowing the user to touch their photo. The sound file and picture document combine to become a touchable photo that is saved in the device and can be uploaded to share with others–and downloaded to other Touch Sight cameras. 

    

Interviews and user-testing with prototypes was conducted at the Library for the Blind and Physically Handicapped in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. 

Not only is this camera made for people who are blind to take photos, it’s also possible to link this to the vectorization and 3D printers raised images so that the blind can touch and feel and “see” it. This takes this camera a step further.  The camera will be in market soon, hope it takes amazing photos as good as its exterior aesthetics. Check here for the blog on this camera

The vOICE ( Seeing with Sound) 

The vOICe (the three middle letters standing for “Oh I See”). The vOICe vision technology for the totally blind offers the experience of live camera  views through sophisticated image-to-sound renderings. 

The camera scans the visual field. The images are converted into a soundscape by the computer. How the sounds might “look”: a brightness represented by volume; elevation is represented by pitch.

A Dr. Peter B.L. Meijer, a research scientist in the Netherlands, has developed a technology called the vOICe, which allows you to represent visual information – to “see” – with sounds. The device is a tiny camera, a laptop and headphones. The camera is mounted on your head and the laptop takes the video input and converts it into auditory information, or soundscapes. The scene in front of you is scanned in stereo: you hear objects on your left through your left ear and objects on your right through your right ear. Brightness is translated as volume: bright things are louder. Pitch tells you what’s up and what’s down. The image refreshes once a second.
 
Not everyone has the inclination to kit themselves out with a head-mounted camera and a laptop as decoding of soundscape is difficult to learn. With practice, Meijer says, you can learn to sense instinctively how the features of a soundscape correspond to objects in the physical world. User of vOICE describes the grayscale images in her head as “ghostly” but real. Cognitive Neuroscience Society in New York and researchers from Harvard Medical School announced that when they viewed the activity in the brains of two vOICe users (one blind at birth, the other who went blind later in life), it was in many respects like that of a sighted person while seeing.  

The vOICe camera-based visual sound technology for the totally blind is now available for most Java-enabled camera phones and PDAs. The main Java requirement is Java ME (J2ME) MIDP-2.0 & MMAPI compliance. In future the vOICe is expected to run on all future Mobile Service Architecture (MSA, JSR-248) compliant mobile devices that fully support camera input and audio output for rendering the live audio map (pixelated acoustic map) and on all future JavaFX Mobile compliant phones. Java enabled phones of NOKIA can be used for photography.

For details on vOICe visit www.seeingwithsound.com

How to use vOICe for Photography by Pranav Lal

Using the vOICe for photography is almost like using vision for photography. The vOICe is an artificial vision prosthesis that is, it converts vision to sound.

This sound is rendered using a defined schema. The task of the user of the vOICe is to interpret the schema and understand what is being shown. This takes some practice but is doable. The schema of the vOICe is as follows –

1. The sound pans from left to right such that objects on the left of the camera view are sounded in the left ear, objects in the middle you hear in the middle of your head while objects in the right of the camera view our sounded in the right ear.
2. The pitch of the sound represents height such that the higher the pitch, the higher the object.
3. The volume of the sound represents brightness such that the louder the sound, the brighter the object.

Using the above three steps for mapping, the user is able to decode the image and get a sense of the scene in front of the camera.

Traditionally, blind people have been taught to photograph by using sound. That is, they align themselves with a sound that the subject that is to be photographed is making. Alternatively, if they need to photograph something like foliage, they can feel the foliage first and then step a few paces back and take the picture. These approaches do work and can certainly produce good quality images. However, when using the vOICe, it is equivalent to having vision. For one thing, you do not need to touch everything. Secondly, concepts such as perspective become significantly easier to represent. For example, consider the following scene.

Two lamps are mounted on a railing. There are some plants on one side of the railing. The blind photographer is on the other side. He wants to capture both the lamps and get some of the plants in the background. The lamps are significantly taller than the photographer is. What can he do?

The photographer can certainly touch the lamps but that won’t help too much. He will know that they are higher so he has to reach an elevated position to get both the lamps. However, what about the plants? It is very difficult, almost impossible to fully appreciate the composite scene of the plants and the lamps. If he had a short-range balloon, he could probably position himself at a particular height, then float over, and check the lamps and plants. However, the majority of blind photographers do not have such an aerial aid. Using the vOICe, it is easy to make out, whether both the lamps are in the camera view. Secondly, the vOICe will also render the background which is the foliage accurately. Now, once the blind photographer is standing at an elevation, he can position his camera such that he’s catching the lamps as well as the vegetation. He then takes his picture and that is that.

Another advantage with the vOICe is that the blind photographer can operate significantly faster. In addition, he can photograph items that cannot really be touched. Consider the following situation. The blind photographer walks onto a jetty. There are some boats in the distance that have twinkling lights and there is a lighthouse. There are also some rocks. Using touch here would not really help since it would be difficult to touch the lighthouse, the rocks and the moving boats simultaneously. Using the vOICe, it is a simple matter of getting everything in the camera view and clicking. The final example I will look at is photographing people. Imagine that the blind photographer needs to take a group photograph. It is going to be extremely difficult to touch every person in the group and then work out the correct alignment for the camera. In addition, capturing expressions by touch is extremely difficult unless the expressions are exaggerated. Therefore, if the photographer wants to capture someone laughing naturally, getting a high quality image will be significantly easier if he’s able to judge the position of the face of the person in real-time.

Therefore, the vOICe has the potential to revolutionize blind photography. It is the only technology that places the blind and sighted photographers at a level platform.

Pranav Lal is a member of Blind With Camera project and an extensively user of the vOICe.  

Click here to visit blog of Pranav Lal
Click here for tutorial on the vOICe writen by Pranav Lal

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