IBM creates app to help blind people socially distance

A camera with a blind person walking with a cane in the lens.

When the COVID-19 pandemic first hit, many things changed very quickly and accessibility was not considered into many of the new guidelines and rules put into place. Stores places sighs on the floor marking aisles for one-way traffic and there were a million signs put up  instructing patrons to stay six feet apart and socially distance. Being blind or visually impaired instantly became ever a larger issue than it was previously. We could not read the signs, we could not see the one-way signs and socially distancing when you can’t see where the person in front of you is was a nightmare. Personally I found it even more difficult because my guide dog Fauna has no idea about social distancing. She is a social animal and is trained to walk right up to the person in front of us in a line. More than one I was yelled at in a store for going the wrong way down an aisle or standing too close to a person in line, so frustrating. 

The researchers at IBM have created a smartphone app called LineChaser which uses vibration and audible cues to help blind and visually impaired users stay the proper distance apart. IBM is well known for creating cutting edge object detection devices including heir suitcase-sized navigation system which uses LiDAR and RGB-D to detect objects and aid users in navigating the world. 

LineChaser does not require any special hardware, the app uses an off-the-shelf smartphone. It would be really easy for a blind or visually impaired user to sit back and say that this app should have been out last year, but development takes time. I worked in product development for 20 years and fully understand that the development of this app likely took time to design, implement and allocate development personnel. Regardless of the release date, I love to see companies, especially large ones like IBM developing apps that will make life easier for their blind and visually impaired users. LineChaser is not only for use during pandemic times, waiting in a line at the airport is one of the most frustrating things you can do as a blind or visually impaired person. First you have to find the end of the line, which can change over time, then you need to follow the person in front of you as the line moves. This task is significantly easier if you have a guide dog, but of course not everyone does. LineChaser has some great possibilities for alleviating the frustration of one aspect of blind life.  

You can read more about the LineChaser app here

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