Project Highlights

ObstAR – Augmented Reality (AR) Device Built to Aid the Visually Impaired

Principal Investigator 

Prof. Allen Cheong 
Deputy Director, CEVR
Professor, School of Optometry, PolyU 
CEO & Scientific Director, CEVR
University Research Chair and Professor, School of Optometry and Vision Science, UW

Team Member

Mr. Nadim Zaro
Mr. Jakie Wang


Aim of this project

The aim of this project is to provide visually impaired individuals with the means to navigate independently in the world and their specific environments, minimizing the need for alternative assistive technologies such as canes, dogs, or human assistance. This will enhance community productivity, speed and efficiency of transportation, and instil a sense of safety and confidence in visually impaired individuals, ultimately reducing the number of accidents resulting from weak navigation.

1. Could you please tell us more about the background of your research programme?

The project combines a clinical study which examines behaviour in visually impaired patients and healthy participants when navigating familiar and unfamiliar obstacles, with a practical implementation of a navigational aid built using augmented reality software and glasses. The results are allowing us to deliver optimized functionality in route navigation using augmented reality.

2. Could you please share ground-breaking experimental / methods that you are using in your research?

We are implementing novel algorithms in object recognition, obstacle detection, image segmentation and distance measurement for environment recognition and obstacle avoidance in augmented reality.

3. What are the challenges in your research?

Patients with different types of visual impairment vary in their navigation performance, requiring different needs for route planning or navigation. To accommodate the needs for a wide spectrum of visually impaired patients, tailor-made solutions to deliver route navigation are needed. Hence, multiple technologies working concurrently to provide optimum and safe navigation will be required.

5. Can you share any current data or major findings?

We have identified certain AOI (areas of interest) in outdoor navigation (traffic lights, zebra crossing, sharp turns, large banners, etc.) which could allow us to provide recognizable indicators in unfamiliar environments. For example, a user crossing the same road every day can benefit from a more specific set of navigational instructions when software recognizes these areas of interest.

6. How is your research program unique?

Our implementation of route navigation is impressively demonstrated in real-time using simple RGB cameras. We also aim to implement real-time text-to-speech instructions to fill the gaps not covered by the AR.

7. What is the impact of the result? How is your research contributing to improving vision/ocular health as well as changing lives for the better?

Our research has the potential to build a real-world solution for visually impaired people to navigate effectively and safely. Advancements in AR and the spread of its popularity and acceptance provide an excellent opportunity to better serve the visually impaired community with a very new form of assistive navigation. Users will feel more confident in tackling the challenges and obstacles of the world, improving their functional performances and quality of life.

8. Any potential patent? 

We are in the process of applying for software patent, and potentially hardware patent for our glasses in the future.