A system to aid blind people in the mobility

A usability test and its results
Edoardo D’Atri, Carlo Maria Medaglia, Alexandru Serbanati, Ugo Biader Ceipidor
CATTID - Università di Roma “La Sapienza” Rome, Italy carlomaria.medaglia@uniroma1.it

Emanuele Panizzi
Dipartimento di Informatica Università di Roma “La Sapienza” Rome, Italy panizzi@uniroma1.it

Alessandro D’Atri
CeRSI Luiss Guido Carli University Rome, Italy datri@luiss.it

Abstract—Blind people need to become as independent as possible in their daily life in order to guarantee a fully social inclusion. Mobility means the possibility of freely moving, without support of any accompanying person, at home, in public and private buildings, and in open spaces, as the streets of the town. Mobile and wireless technologies, and in particular the ones used to locate persons or objects, can be used to realize navigation systems in an intelligent environment. Such systems open new opportunities to improve the speed, easiness, and safety of the visually impaired persons mobility. Using these technologies together with Text To Speech systems and a mobilebased database the authors developed a cost effective, easy-to-use orientation and navigation system: RadioVirgilio/SesamoNet1. The cost effectiveness is due to the recovery of RFID identity tags from cattle slaughtering: these tags are then borrowed to create a grid used for navigation. In this paper the results of an usability analysis of this guide system are presented. A preliminary experiment involving a small group of experts and a blind person is described. In order to evaluate the usability, three cognitive walkthrough sessions have been done to discuss the system’s basic functionality and to highlight the most critical aspects to be modified. Keywords- Blind mobility; Mobile communication and devices; RFID; Usability test;

B. Mobility and orientation by blind people Orientation is the subjective ability to know the own positioning in a space both in absolute sense and respect to the point of departure and the one of arrival; this is possible through a complex cognitive and perceptive process and by the acquisition of the sensory information coming from the environment and the body. A blind person can orient himself in already known places by recognising known features (absolute orientation) or by perceiving unknown but regular objects, like buildings’ walls in outdoor situations or the angles of a room walls in indoor spaces (relative orientation). This first kind of orientation is, for a blind person, the most difficult one due to the complexity of collecting information from the surrounding environment only through tact and hearing. In order to explore unknown places a blind person usually needs to be guided by another person or a dog. In order to move without a guide in an unknown space a blind needs to identify some points of reference that allow him to guess the optimal movements and the distance to cover to move from one place to an other one. A visually impaired decide her orientation from two types of information: the points of reference and the lines of reference [12]. Points of reference are every kind of environment information (tactile, acoustic or olfactory) a blind person easily perceive and/or remember in her memory: a visually impaired, has to knows his relative position with respects to these points and their meaning. Reference lines are based on a continuous environmental knowledge that allows a blind to orient himself and to maintain the right direction without the need of additional points of reference, example are the sidewalks, the walls, the changes of ground surface. RadioVirgilio/SesamoNet, through the voice synthesized instructions, supplies to the most important points of reference when the user cannot easily perceive these natural marks and generates sounds to identify additional and useful reference lines. C. State of Art Several solutions have been proposed in the recent years to increase the mobility and/or safety of disabled pedestrians. A first system is proposed by Reppucci [1]. This system is composed by: an information broadcast service provided by a transmitting station covering the area of interest and a



A. Perceiving spaces by blind people Blind people compensate the lack of sight augmenting the capabilities of the other senses. In this way they are able to create mental maps from sensory images [5]. In fact all the remaining senses, mainly tact and hearing, but also in some cases the olfaction, are used to replace, even if an incomplete way, the ability to perceive the spaces. In order to know an environment a visually impaired tries to build mentally the spaces by identifying obstacles around him and progressively searching environmental information. RadioVirgilio/SesamoNet provides a suitable audio output indicating path borders, possible danger or other important information; this audio helps the visually impaired in creating his/her mental maps.
Radiovirgilio/Sesamonet (SEcure and SAfe MObility NETwork) is a joint project between SILAB-IPSC of the EC Joint Research Centre (JRC) and the RFID LAB of the University of Rome “Sapienza”

Second International Conference on Systems (ICONS'07) 0-7695-2807-4/07 $20.00 © 2007

such as the status of a traffic light signal. water. To improve the blind user orientation the portable transceiver should also include an electronic compass. Authors affirm that the obtained quality of mobility is better than the one provided by a guide dog. an unsighted person receives relevant local information. the needed level of safety for a blind pedestrian cannot be currently provided by such a kind of systems. Bluetooth interface. 2 The system is composed by the following parts: 1. after slaughtering. Since RFID tags are quite cheap. Figure 2 shows two typical transponders. and batteries2. the portable device receives from the base transmitter a location message indicating the information to be synthesized. In the recent years several systems have been developed on this technology and oriented to visually impaired persons. Transponders have associated data and ID memory blocks. More specifically.The final tag grid. These tools often integrated other technological services such as Geographical Information Systems (GIS). the tags’ placement cost could be high and usually tags are not easy to adapt for an outdoor. On the other side. Rfid Cane Reader -. The solution proposed in [1] is based on a portable device having a radio transceiver and fixed radio transceivers located as reference points. due to the fact they are already in a plastic or ceramics envelop. having a shape similar to the classic blind’s cane. Figure 2. Recycling of such animal identification tags significantly reduces the cost of the encapsulated transponders. Another approach described by Hancock [6] proposes a portable navigation unit and a plurality of location beacons based on infrared emitting diodes. Due to such a lack of accuracy and the low real time responsiveness. they are recovered for this purpose. will be made of tags burrowed into the ground up to 4cm.2 KHz channel was used because of the minimal noise from the environment (i. A direct line of sight is required in this case between the navigation unit and the beacons. RFID tags provide location markers and a mobile receiver provides user navigation information based on the code stored in each tag. [17]. which is based on geostationary satellite signals. Tags Rfid used in RadioVirgilio/SesamoNet Passive RFID Tags -. harsh environment. GENERAL DESCRIPTION AND SYSTEM OVERVIEW 3. The current version of the cane is made of plastic and needs an external RFID controller. Unfortunately. the packaging is a relevant cost factor. reducing the cost of both the transponder and its encapsulation. When a command is issued by the user. the RFID reader cane. These tags were used for animal identification and. Second International Conference on Systems (ICONS'07) 0-7695-2807-4/07 $20. as described in EP 0 849 989 [2] for use with ruminants such as cattle.20] propose the usage of RFID passive tags for navigation system for blind people. Some authors [11. in this embodiment the capsule has the form of a bolus. Another example of GPS based system has been developed by Mori and Totani [13]. The system is composed by an automatic wheelchair. In the current study the134.The RFID antenna is placed inside and near the tip of a white cane. RFID tag grid RFID Cane Reader For protoyping purposes we used a standalone battery and an RS232-toBluetottoh commercial converter which are bulky compared to the final prototype. by which absolute orientation is achieved. A new model will be ready in December 2006. but on the other side this solution seems not easy to be extended to walking mobility. uses a portable guidance apparatus and a plurality of markers which output a beam carrying location information and direction information of this beam. concrete.e. These systems does not require a power supply for location markers and overcomes the GPS navigation limits in indoor environments. The physical architecture composed by: a tag grid. etc) by which the signal is affected. Another widespread approach for outdoor navigation relies on the Global Positioning System (GPS). [9] and [18]. the resolution of a GPS localization for civil purposes is limited (few meters) and there are relevant delays in the answer when the receivers are used. 2.14. and the PDA . Remarkable blind navigation systems based on GPS. In this way. The uniqueness of the number stored in the read-only ID memory block is guaranteed by the European law for animals identification.00 © 2007 . A similar solution. This allows a reading range of up to 15cm.portable receiving station allowing the user to poll the transmitting station that deliver intelligible information about this area. a GPS receiver and a portable GIS. GIS and wireless technologies are presented in [7]. PDA Figure 1. proposed by Shojima et al. designed for this purpose (see Figure 3). II.

while holding a button on the cane handle. lighter and easier to use. Navigation Logic: this is the core software which handles navigation and tag data in order to provide the user with mandatory (safety-related) or on demand (environmental) navigation informations. It will be white. A. providing the Navigation Logic with extended data related to a tag ID. In continuous read mode the battery lifetime is about three hours. Thus we decided that spoken messages are not suitable (too long) so tones are used for the main three (and more frequent) navigation signals. three output should be generated in this time. • Figure 3.00 © 2007 . Standard batteries provide at least three hours of continuous use while Bluetooth communication is on. if three tags are probed while drawing a single arc. PDA – System development and running usability tests were done using a HP iPAQ hw6500 PDA having a built-in Bluetooth 1. The overall architecture B. This means that. the RFID controller will be included in the handle. The user is not supposed to perform any task when navigation session starts or the BT manager is resumed after any loss of connection with the cane. RFID reading cane The reader is set to either operate on demand or in continuous read mode. as the rechargeable batteries and the Bluetooth terminal that now are external devices. in order to have the maximum main memory available to run the RadioVirgilio/SesamoNet application. • Navigation Data Interface: it retrieves navigational data from a local database. This module ”tells” the user he is probing the central tag or one on the right or the left hand side of the path3. It also checks if the direction is right and not reverted.Net architecture (but we are also ready to start a JAVA version of the project) and can be divided in the following blocks: • Bluetooth Cane Connection Manager: a BT connection channel is open between the RFID reader and the PDA Figure 4. Eventually it can send a text string containing more complex navigation or environmental information to the TTS component [19]. System Functionality A grid of tags has been designed to provide the needed information about the path the blind should follow in order to be safe . RadioVirgilio/SesamoNet can also be supported by any Windows CE based portable device having a Bluetooth antenna to communicate with the Rfid cane. and the related acoustic signals. This system is a great improvement compared to the classical 3 A sweep of the cane usually probes an arc in front of the user and it takes about one second. still under development. an RFID antenna will be integrated. Second International Conference on Systems (ICONS'07) 0-7695-2807-4/07 $20.2. Inside the tip of the cane. This time will be further increased when the Bluetooth 2. like the classic blind cane. guides him along a route alerting him when he exits the safe grid area. used as data storage to contain the database file. In the new version the cane will be closer to the one used by blinds: smaller. Such a grid. is based on the Microsoft . This device has 64MB of main memory and a Secure Digital (SD) expansion slot. Logical Architecture The software. as in the prototype.for tag ID string transmission.0 or ZigBee interfaces will become available.

while the other participants observed. the guide dog. analyzing the different functionalities. Only the two gray carpets were equipped with RFID tags. during this execution. the ones represented in grey in fig 6. with a straight part followed by a 90° right turn. A. right turn). central path and direction. First. they were then instructed to approach the RadioVirgilio/SesamoNet pathway by scanning with the cane and moving on. For this reason. we performed three cognitive walkthrough sessions (Fig 5). as he could not find the carpet junctions due to the grass-like consistency of the carpets. The visually impaired user confirmed that it was not possible to identify the path border by touching. Each student was taught about the system tones and the tags disposition in the path. The disposition of tags in the path is reported in Fig. Two of them. 7. were equipped with RFID tags that were configured as a path with starting point on the left. right border. while. a blind person joined the group. a student (the blind person in the third session) tried to orientate and find his way using RadioVirgilio/SesamoNet along the path represented in Fig. as well as after it. The first two walkthrough sessions were participated by the authors plus some students. Usability analysis A deep analysis of the interaction of visually impaired persons with the system is fundamental in order to have a usable system that enhances the standard cane and gives an added value to the blind person. Task execution during the cognitive walkthrough Figure 6.16]. a discussion arose among participants with the goal of: • assess tasks completion • • • • analyze encountered problems. We juxtaposed the other inactive carpets to them in order to avoid tactile feedback that the student could exploit to identify the path. The grass like carpets as they were disposed on the room floor. keeping We positioned 5 grass-like carpets in the room. RadioVirgilio/SesamoNet offers various aids for the autonomous deambulation of visually impaired: • • • • • • Keep the user on a safe path Information about turns and obstacles in the path Checking of the right direction (useful if user falls or is disoriented) General and specific environment information on demand Check and trace his position in the tag grid On-line help and assistance (via GSM) III. in the third one. In the scenario in which the tasks were performed. both with an expert-based study and with real users. Figure 5. like the white cane. the direction of arrows representing the configuration of sound and messages for each tag (left border.assisting technology for blind people’s mobility. and the tactile ground surface indicators [10. we decided to study the usability of the system. and single and recurring errors make an expert usability evaluation RadioVirgilio/SesamoNet basic features propose and discuss solutions discuss about further testing of the same or similar tasks (preparation for usability tests) of THE USABILITY TEST the cane at an appropriate distance from the floor and trying to find a central tag and placing over it. In all the walkthrough sessions one or more participants executed some basic tasks within a typical scenario. Second International Conference on Systems (ICONS'07) 0-7695-2807-4/07 $20. 6. in order to discuss the system’s basic functionalities and to highlight the most critical aspects to be modified or to be tested with users.00 © 2007 .

“Augmented reality”. Task 2 was about orientating in the path. central path. one of the students in task 2.techsmith. The student was first deliberately disoriented. The blind user. lateral tags allow for redundancy and guarantee for fault tolerance. etc. in some cases the system played the tone related to a new tag before the tone of the previous was finished. It was interesting to note that while the border signals were used to locate the path direction (task 2) they were not so used to follow the path in task 3. and he did not know where the path was located (either in front of him. that will be based on standard methodology (scenario. followed the central line of tags and was able to follow the path walking quickly. then he was asked to find the path by just hearing the tones of the RadioVirgilio/SesamoNet system. Layout and configuration of RFID tags in the path. finding path direction and identifying left and right borders. in task 3. We discussed two possible solutions to the problem of turning too early or too late based on the possibility of explicitly saying something like “two steps from now. and it is likely to exit the path in that case. if the cane is too long (and that was the case for all the three users). could not hear their tones and she only found the other two lines of tags.asp). tasks. for this reason we repeated this task three times with him just using one tag line and also placing an obstacle on the path. “as a sort of ‘road sign’” (as he said). 2. i. it seems that central line tags could be embedded in the lodges with no need for lateral tags. ii) right border tone is too low. a bag) is placed on the central path line.Three tasks were executed and discussed in each cognitive walkthrough session: Fig 7. will allow to evaluate the usability of the system. in order to avoid false alarms.) and with the management software Techsmith Morae (www. turned right too early because the cane was sensing tags too far away and thus the system pronounced the “turn-right” message. or rear.g. should be delayed to after some occurrences of backward tags. • • B. iv) the message “you are going backwards”. or aside). The whole discussion confirmed that RadioVirgilio/SesamoNet is to be used as an augmentation of the information that the normal cane already gives (physical objects identification) and that its usage must be integrated in the cane usage. observer. as they tend to move it too fast. System tones. the error rates. Borders vs. Synchronization is quite important when a turning approaches. that is pronounced when the user reads tags which he already passed-by. 4. standing with her body on the right border tags. and a learning curve of RadioVirgilio/SesamoNet. loosing some tags. This test. we are now “calibrating the system” (modifying some system tones and the moments when they must be played) and we are planning a usability test with blind users that will be conducted in the next weeks and that is aimed to assess the validity of our assumptions and of the whole system.e. Cane usage. Cane length. questionnaires. using it as a virtual wall. v) the blind user suggested to use more tones. • Task 1 was related to finding the path in the room. 5. which could be learned by the user. Based on this input. Look ahead. User tests will stress the analysis of this aspect. The cane length (that should be proportionate to user height) highlighted some problems related to tags finding and to the right turning: in fact. especially. the blind user. 6. 3. in other cases. Results can be organized into different areas. His starting position (which he was not aware of) was either on the left or on the right of it. iii) left border is not advertised in the curve as it is superseeded by the ‘turn right’ message. in order to let the user turn as soon as he receives the message. Cane constituted a problem for students.com/morae. It then should be repeated only two or three times.00 © 2007 . Finally in task 3 the student was positioned at the starting point of the RadioVirgilio/SesamoNet path and he was asked to move along towards the exit point. leading to unrecognition of border positions. however. Participants noticed that the system tones and messages were not appropriate for several reasons: i) the message “go straight on” as central tag tone is too long and it is repeated too often due to the cane usage (see point 3 below). 1. and to highlight and propose solutions for potential other problems that may eventually arise. Second International Conference on Systems (ICONS'07) 0-7695-2807-4/07 $20. they can help to find again a lost path and they can help in closed building (that have no lodges) and in case an obstacle (e. turn right” or configuring the turn right messages on tags placed in the final part of the straight path only. it is not possible to scan very close to the user body. Results Several information came both from the task execution and from the discussion that followed it.

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