IPhones: Man’s New Best Friend

IPhones: Man’s New Best Friend

Blind and visually impaired people who have an iPhone handy may not need a guide dog anymore, thanks to an app that guides them through unfamiliar places.

Navatar, the smartphone app created by University of Nevada engineers, helps blind and visually impaired people get around by providing an affordable, portable indoor navigation system.

The system uses 3-D sketches of buildings, which are generally accessible through Google’s SketchUp program. Once the user enters the information, the app provides step-by-step directions.

Navatar may have the sketches pop up automatically in the future, and the team is also considering adding GPS to create an outdoor navigation app.

This innovation demonstrates how mobile technology can replace many current solutions to problems for people with disabilities. Although indoor navigation systems already exist, they need expensive hardware that isn’t affordable. Navatar’s choice to use existing devices like smartphones will likely propel it towards widespread adoption.

Smartphone apps are already helping the blind read Braille and do homework by using tactile mobile technology, so people who cannot see can feel vibrations giving them the necessary information.

Scientists and engineers are making strides in harnessing advanced technologies for the disabled, but some of them, particularly innovations to help people who cannot walk, are often prohibitively expensive. One of Navatar’s concrete advantages is that it will likely be very affordable, since it is a simple app on a smartphone.

PETA gave Navatar an award because it decreased the need for guide dogs, but that’s not the only potentially cost-cutting recent invention that replaces dog labor with mobile technology. The “e-Nose,” a digital bomb-sniffer can help keep dogs out of harm’s way by detecting threatening scents digitally. Together with Navatar, the e-Nose demonstrates how mobile technology can interpret the outside world by simulating one of the five senses.

People often associate apps with fun games like Angry Birds or entertainment like Facebook and Pandora, but as a platform, apps can offer a stunning variety of services, and Navatar demonstrates how some of these services have the potential to positively impact lives.

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