Smart Cities for Visually Impaired Pedestrians – AI Can Make a Remarkable Difference

Visually impaired people and their daily activity as pedestrians get more attention lately. It’s because researchers have significant ideas on their presence in societies in the future. It is also because the current AI technology can do so much for people with sight issues. Let’s browse basic information on the case. 

The visual impairment will rise to more than 550 million by 2050 – researchers expect

There are more than 200 million people that live with moderate to severe vision impairment, according to data from 188 countries. This health issue exists everywhere around the world. Yet, the largest number of visually impaired people concerns Asian countries: 11.7 million people in South Asia, 6.2 in East Asia, and 3.5 in South East Asia.

Researchers suggest that the number of blind people across the world is set to triple before we get to the legendary 2050. Allegedly, many other things are about to collapse that year as well – like the end of the world. Also in this case, if we don’t take immediate action, the number of blind people will rise. To be more precise, it’s expected to grow from 36 million to 115 million. While cases of visual impairment are going to rise from 200 to more than 550 million. It’s not hard to guess, that this trend will affect most significantly the world’s poorest countries.

Visual impairment at every level impacts peoples’ lives

For those of us who don’t suffer from any visual impairment, it’s hard to imagine how hard it can be. Not being able to cross the street or drive because of the worsening sight issue is a big deal. Unfortunately, this is the daily bread of many people, especially among seniors. People who suffer from the condition become less independent. They also get fewer opportunities in many areas of life, like education or economics. Future should see investment in treatments, vision-correcting glasses, and doctors trained to deliver sustainable eye healthcare. Not taking action only worsens the social problem.

The Accessible Pedestrian Signals example

The United States and Canada invested in a system called Accessible Pedestrian Signals (APS). What are blind and visually blind people getting from it and how has it developed their autonomy? The APS, thanks to audible and vibrotactile indications, lets pedestrians with sight issues know precisely when they can safely cross the road.

They are, thus, supposed to experience fewer obstacles in enjoying the city. Implementing APS is an obligation defined by the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990 for the US and the Canadian Human Rights Act of 1985. Cities committed towards blind or visually impaired citizens provide information on APS on the Department of Transportation website. Any citizen of New York City can download the list of intersections equipped with APS. By 2018, the city had equipped with it 371 intersections, in 2019 another 150, and in 2020 this number has doubled. Is APS enough to make blind and visually impaired people happy in the city?

Smartphone-based systems

There is another AI software supposed to improve safety and mobility for visually impaired pedestrians. Researchers at the University of Minnesota worked to help them safely cross signal intersections. Their system is smartphone-based. It uses GPS, Bluetooth, and other technologies.

Pedestrians with sight issues face many unique challenges. For example, they may have difficulty locating the edge of the street or crosswalk and interpreting traffic patterns. On one hand, if you know your city, things become easier. But, in the area that is new for you, they tend to feel completely lost. That’s why engineer Chen-Fu Liao came up with his idea of making pedestrians more autonomous. 

Why is it important to interview troubled individuals?

To better understand what type of information they need at intersection crossings, it’s crucial to talk. Only understanding their point of view can let us help. The best systems should focus on building on the orientation and mobility skills that pedestrians with sight issues have already learned.