Study Uses MS Kinect as Virtual Sight for the Blind

Dennis Faas's picture

A pair of Masters students at the University of Konstanz in Germany have undertaken a study that uses Microsoft Kinect to give virtual sight to the blind. The study involves a number of strategically-placed tech devices in a given location, with Kinect overseeing every movement.

Navigation for the Visually Impaired

Originally designed for the Xbox 360 as a way for hands-free gaming, the Microsoft Kinect system has taken on new meaning -- now providing what could be virtual sight to the blind.

Dubbed NAVI (Navigational Aids for the Visually Impaired), the system works by connecting Kinect to a helmet which sits atop a person's head. It is wired to a laptop computer that the user carries around in a fold-out backpack.

An attached waist belt is also worn, encasing three LilyPad vibration motors. These act as a secondary sensing device, warning the user when they are about to bump into an object. (Source:

The software that powers the Kinect also renders an Augmented Reality (AR) system. AR markers are stationed on the walls and doors of a given area, creating a navigation route for the visually impaired.

If so desired, there is also a Bluetooth headset option that provides voice commands.

Small-Scale Global Positioning System

When all of the equipment is strapped in, the system works as follows:

The Kinect monitors the surrounding location, looking for a passage route, sort of like a small-scale global positioning system (GPS). When approaching an object, the user might hear voice instructions like "Door approaching in 3... 2... 1..." followed by the command "Pull the door".

Signs can also be read to the user should the situation present itself. (Source:

NAVI System Not Yet Ultra-Portable

Naturally, there are a number of growing pains associated with the NAVI system.

The most apparent is the fact that the hardware is not very portable. Once the more pressing issues are resolved, size would have to be the next barrier to overcome.

Still, the system makes for a wonderful resource for the blind, especially in creating a more independent living situation.

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