Universidad de Alicante

Aerial obstacle detection software for the visually impaired

Posted by Universidad de AlicanteResponsive · Patents for licensing · Spain

Summary of the technology

The main innovations of this technology are that this software can be executed in any smartphone equipped with a 3D camera, which is used to detect the distance to the obstacles, and it provides an accessible interface that alerts the user by means of beeps or vibration when it finds an obstacle. The alert becomes more and more frequent as the obstacle is closer. The system is comfortable and discreet making easier the user social integration.

It is worth to highlight that this technology is new for this kind of devices. Until now, smartphones were not able to extract real measures from the environment. This application extracts about 30000 measures per frame, with a frame rate of 9 fps.

The interface allows configuring different features: operation mode, alert type, volume, speech velocity, language, etc.

Description of the technology

The research group “Mobile Vision Research Lab” of the University of Alicante has developed software aimed to detect aerial obstacles (e.g. tree branches, awnings), addressed to the visually impaired. The software can be executed in any smartphone equipped with a 3D camera or catadioptric system and it alerts the user from obstacles by means of beeps or vibration. The system is comfortable and does not attrack attention making easier user social Integration. The research group is looking for companies interested in exploitation and/or adaptation of the technology as well as developing of technical cooperation projects in this area.


The main goal of the application is to act as a walking stick or a guide dog complement. It does not replace these elements, but it solves their main problem, that is, their inability to detect aerial obstacles (tree branches, awnings, etc.). In the case of walking sticks, this limitation is obvious. The dogs cannot be trained to detect theses obstacles, because they are not aware of the height difference between them and their owners. As one of the main advantages, the application is embedded into a smartphone, obtaining a comfortable and discreet system that favors the user social integration. Furhermore, the invention is also able to notify the presence of an obstacle by means of acoustic signals or vibrations. The latter option makes the system less noticeable and does not deprive the user of the sense of hearing. To make possible the obstacles detection, the application is able to take measures of the environment in a radius of several meters. For this purpose, the device must incorporate hardware that allows obtaining the scene in stereo. Within these devices, we find the “3D phones” that are endowed with a double front camera, and every smartphone equipped with a catadioptric system that allow us to obtain two shifted observations of the environment. The application is fully compatible and functional in both types of devices. In addition, the application uses data from different sensors, such as magnetometers and accelerometers. These sensors provide the global orientation of the device, to detect the direction in which the user is walking. This system has been developed for the Android platform, because other platforms do not have currently available 3D devices. Nevertheless, it could be ported to any other platform whenever the required hardware is available. The usability of this application is directly related to its portability, because the device must hang from the user neck with the camera facing forward and the screen on the chest to activate the obstacle detection mode. Once the proximity sensor detects the device is in this position, the screen is locked and the obstacle detection begins. The detection finishes by flipping the device, or simply separating it from the chest. The obstacle detection is performed up to four meters forward, within the space corresponding to the user torso. The system incorporates an algorithm to correct the swing movement produced when the user walks. This correction makes the system to search the obstacles in the walking direction, instead of the direction the camera is pointing. The user receives obstacle alerts when they are closer than two meters in the direction the user is walking. Once an obstacle is detected, the device sends a sound or vibration alert. The closer is the obstacle the stronger is the alert. The application presents an accessible user interface, designed for blind users. This interface allows the user to configure different system features. The interaction with the user is based on three simple gestures: vertical swipe to change the menu item, horizontal swipe to explore the different values for the current item, and touch to select the current value. After each gesture, the device pronounces the current selection, to let the user know the actions he is performing.

Main advantages of its use

  • Also, the system warns the obstacles via acoustic signals or vibrations without depriving the user from the sense of hearing.
  • Ease of use via touch interface specially designed for the blind. Items and options are vocalized.
  • In contrast to others, the use of this technology is comfortable and does not attract attention. It facilitates the user social integration.
  • The system does not require previous calibration to start the obstacles detection.
  • The technology is embedded in a smartphone.


  • Companies developing software for mobile devices
  • Companies specialized in products for visually impaired
  • Computer vision systems
  • Handicap aids
  • Organizations for visually impaired support (foundations, associations, national and regional public authorities, etc.)
  • Other companies or entities interested in new developments in robotics, and computer vision systems
  • Robotics

Related keywords

  • Electronics, IT and Telecomms
  • Electronics Related Market
  • Computer related
  • 3D
  • Software services
  • Other software services
  • Other software related
  • visually impaired
  • blind
  • blindness
  • smartphones
  • computer vision
  • robotics
  • handicap aids

About Universidad de Alicante

Research & Technology Organization from Spain

As one of the largest universities of Spain, Universidad de Alicante has a rich history of innovation. Our main objective is to transfer the technology that our research teams are developing to the industries and companies which are able to take profit from them. R & D & Innovation results and know-how are offered in the domains of Chemistry, Materials, Environment, IT, Building and other applied subjects.

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