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Feeling Sounds, Hearing Sights


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Chieko Asakawa on CMU campus

Chieko Asakawa, who is blind, uses the NavCog app, which she helped develop, to find her way on the campus of Carnegie Mellon University.

Credit: Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. All rights reserved.

In a 2016 video, Saqib Shaikh, a Microsoft Research software engineer, walks out of London's Clapham Station Underground stop, turns, and crosses a street, then stops suddenly when he hears an unexpected noise. Shaikh, who lost his sight when he was seven years old and walks with the aid of the standard white cane, reaches up and swipes the earpiece of his glasses.

The video then shifts to the view from his eyewear, a pair of smart glasses that capture high-quality still images and videos. That simple swipe instructed the glasses, an experimental prototype designed by a company called Pivothead, to snap a still photo. Microsoft software analyzed the picture, then translated the findings into auditory feedback. Through the smart glasses, which include a small speaker, Shaikh hears the results from an automated voice: "I think it's a man jumping in the air doing a trick on a skateboard."


 

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