Auburn researchers constructing mobility system to navigate the blind

AUBURN UNIVERISTY – David Bevly, the Albert Smith Jr. Professor in Auburn University’s Department of Mechanical Engineering, is leading a team of Auburn researchers to build a prototype Extended Mobility System that will help navigate the visually impaired to their desired locations.

The team is investigating the use of cameras, inertial sensors and communications devices to track the movements of the visually impaired wearers. GPS data, as well as wireless information available from future Department of Transportation wireless communication devices, will be integrated into the device to guide users to their destinations. The system will include technology developed for soldiers and unmanned vehicles by Draper Laboratory, a not-for-profit engineering research and development organization dedicated to solving national challenges.

Members of the Auburn research team include industrial and systems engineering faculty members John Evans and Richard Sesek and graduate student Tenchi Gao, mechanical engineering graduate students Robert Cofield and Christopher Rose, and consultant Richard Bishop. The system will be designed with the help of blind individuals from the National Federation of the Blind, who are crucial to ensuring the system is both accessible and useful.

“Commercial products have been created that primarily use GPS in conjunction with voice-over communication as a means of telling the visually impaired where they are and which way to go,” Rose said. “Unfortunately, these products often suffer from poor positioning. That is, they are not accurate enough to tell the difference between a sidewalk and a road, or going in the wrong building or doorway.”

According to Rose, utilizing Draper Laboratory’s robotics expertise in vision navigation and Auburn’s GPS and pedestrian dead-reckoning capabilities allows the system to provide blind people with more precise positioning, as well as indoor navigation. This enables people to do more of what they want to do in an intuitive and readily available way, from attending concerts to taking the subway to visiting friends.

The system of devices, which Bevly describes as potentially including an ankle bracelet containing inertial sensors or a camera positioned in a pair of glasses, is under contract to the Federal Highway Administration. A prototype device is expected to be available in 2015.

(Contributed by Morgan Stashick.)

Morgan Stashick, Samuel Ginn College of Engineering, (334) 844-3591 (, Mike Clardy, Office of Communications and Marketing, (334) 844-9999 (