A new breed of high-tech blinds may be on the horizon.
Using magnetic fields, they can be made to sense the position of a user’s face, so they can automatically adjust their visor.
The technology, known as Magnetic Sensors for Motorized Blind-Type (M2M) and is being developed by Swiss company Aref, could eventually reduce the time it takes for a blind person to get a first-aid visit by up to 90%.
Aref is working on its own version of M2M, called Magnetic Sensators for Automated Blind-Types, and has plans to sell its technology in the UK later this year.
The idea of magnetic sensing is to provide a more natural, intuitive feeling to blind people, and in doing so may reduce the burden of first aid, particularly when people are using their own body.
For the blind, it can be difficult to sense objects by simply looking at them.
The current solution to that problem is to look at the person, using a blind-sensing camera.
The M2Ms can sense the shape of a person’s head, but they also rely on visual cues.
That can be very difficult for people with a weak sense of sight.
Magnetic Sensing for Automatized Blinds could be used to detect a person without looking, for example, and it could also detect the shape and color of their hair, says lead author Dr. Daniel Poulin, an assistant professor of optometry at Aref.
The system would be less sensitive to the person’s facial structure, which can also be important for people whose vision is limited to a narrow range.
A magnetic sensor is placed over the eyes of a blind patient, using sensors embedded in the back of the head.
When the person looks at the sensor, the device senses the location of their eyes, which is then translated into the direction of their gaze.
When a blind user looks at a magnetic sensor, they perceive a magnetic field that changes based on the shape, or intensity, of the magnetic field.
It is this combination of visual cues that make up the sensation of seeing.
“We are hoping that we will be able to detect the direction the person is looking, and that this information will then help us determine the person who is being looked at,” Pouin says.
The new technology could also be used by blind people to detect other objects and objects around them, he says.
That would make the system much more practical than having to constantly scan the area for an object.
The team is also working on a device that can detect the movement of people using magnetic sensors.
The device could be placed over a blind spot, or in a blind space, and would then be able the sensor to detect changes in the magnetic fields around that spot.
The researchers hope that their technology could be useful in the near future.
“In the next 10 years, we believe that we are going to see people who are blind use this technology for many things, and so it is important that we continue to develop this technology,” Poulsen says.
Aref was founded by a pair of Canadian brothers, David and Eric Séguin, who came from the University of Toronto.
They wanted to combine their interests in research and technology.
They initially worked in electrical engineering and physics, and were intrigued by the idea of designing devices that could detect the motions of living objects.
They created the idea for their magnetic sensors by combining the ideas of the electrical engineers with the electrical chemists who were studying magnetic sensing.
“When you combine these two, they ended up with a really promising idea,” Péguini says.
A new generation of technology to help blind people The team originally developed the system in Canada, and have since expanded the prototype into the UK, the Netherlands, Germany, and Brazil.
“It has been very useful in Germany and Brazil,” Pouchil says.
In Brazil, Aref developed the M2MP sensor and installed it on blind-friendly signs at schools, libraries, and other facilities.
The company hopes to use the technology to provide more efficient, cheaper, and safer first-care procedures, as well as to help people with learning disabilities.
Arefu has also partnered with the University College London and the University Hospital of Leiden to build a system to help sighted people use magnetic sensors to adjust their blind-side visors.
Arefy’s system uses the magnetic signals emitted by magnetic sensors embedded into the backside of the eyes to detect and determine the orientation of the blind user’s head.
“The more you use your blind side, the more sensitive it is,” Pousin says, “so the more we can detect things that are hidden from you.”