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Blindspot

Individual Design Project
2011 - 2012
Honours’ Thesis Project
National University of Singapore

Advisor: Donn Koh

This project aims to design sighted experience for visually handicapped people. It focuses on enhancing their social experience with the use of a smart white cane that empowers them with the ability to take an active role in socializing and connecting with their friends and family.

Awards
Recipient of NUS Entrepreneurship Practicum Award 2011
Runner-up for James Dyson Award 2011
Grand Pix Winner for Netexplo 2012

Research

Literature Research
Several books about visually handicapped people were read to understand more about them. Factual readings allowed understanding from a scientific point-of-view, while novels informed of several emotional level thoughts and day-to-day problems. Through these research, several key scenarios were picked out to highlight the different potential areas to be tackled. These information are used to formulate the questions to ask for the interviews.


Brainstorming & Ideation
Based on the scenarios and issues identified through the Literature Research, brainstorming sessions were conducted to expand on several related scenarios.

Quick and wild ideas were also generated massively during these sessions to inform of several potential and interesting areas to tackle. It also helps to formulate and structure questions for the user interviews


User Interview & Observations
User were hard to find and made each interview and observation precious. Prior preparations with literature research and ideations were vital to maximise each session with them.

No pictures of the users were allowed.

Observations on the interactions between blind people with other people and with the environment were conducted within the Visually Handicapped Association.

The questions for the interviews were asked based on the scenarios that were previously identified and the observations. It evolved according to the responses of each user.

Ideas from the brainstorming sessions were also described to them to evaluate their desirability towards certain experiences.

This forms the basis for this project.


Blind users want the same things as everyone else
Based on the assumption that Maslow’s hierarchy of needs applies to everyone, handicapped or not, Blind people too will want the same things as everyone else.

In order to identify deeper emotional needs of blind people that are hard to articulate, the emotional needs of sighted people were used as a reference.

By concurrently comparing what sighted people wants and what blind people can do, several more interesting ideas not thought or imagined of by blind people were generated.

These ideas were further refined with the help of blind people.


Problem & Solution Development with Users and Experts
The problems identified and proposed solutions were validated, refined and developed through inputs not only from blind people, but also their Professional Trainers. This ensured that the problem to solve or the solution to propose was of significant impact to blind people’s lives.


The Problem: Unable to detect hanging objects
The white cane itself can allow blind people to travel quite safely. However, it cannot detect things that are not attached to the ground.

If the obstacle is something sharp, it may cause harm to them. This unknown hazard cause them to be afraid of travelling out.


The Problem: Not knowing who’s or what’s around them
The simple gesture of saying Hi first to a friend walking down the same street is almost impossible for visually handicapped people. If the friend did not approach first, he would just have missed the friend.


Design Concept

Detecting Hanging Objects
The ultrasonic sensor was placed at the handle of the white cane so as to make use of the swinging motion of the white cane to scan the sky for any hanging objects.


Locating Friends Nearby
Using WiFi and GPS, friends using geographically-tagged social applications like Foursquares can be located by Visually handicapped people. They will be informed of their location, and thus can take the opportunity to find them.

Tactile Navigator
Upon knowing the location of their friends, they can choose to find them and be guided by the tactile navigator. On normal circumstance, the tactile navigator can be used to explore new places and be guided to places.


Placing Tactile Navigator on the Cane handle
To reduce the number of device to carry, the tactile navigator was placed on the handle of the white cane. This way, the navigating trail cannot be a circle, but a line instead.


Optical Track pad
The optical track pad was chosen as swiping action and tactile clicking can be done within that single button. This way, menu controls can be done easily single-handedly on the handle of the white cane itself.

Audio Menu through Bluetooth Earpiece
Bluetooth earpiece was used to inform all instructions and notifications. Instead of choosing it


Form Exploration
Forms with friendly and reliability were collected as a mood board to explore the forms. A series of white cane handle were quickly illustrated and chosen according to what fits best.


Charger

Induction was chosen as the technology to charge the devices as it is the most convenient for the users; they do not have to find the hassle of connecting wires heads to charge but simply place it at the dock itself.








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