UNR researcher earns Google grant to create navigation tool for the blind

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UNR researcher earns Google grant to create navigation tool for the blind

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Eelke Folmer wearing Google Glass

Google has awarded one of its competitive research grants to a professor at the University of Nevada, Reno to use Google Glass technology to help blind people navigate indoor spaces.

The $40,000 award will help Eelke Folmer continue developing an app to provide spoken directions to blind users navigating everyday public spaces like grocery stores, malls, and airports using landmarks like doorways and water fountains.

Google Maps has mapped thousands of indoor spaces, so Folmer's app would incorporate that information in order to provide accurate directions to blind users through wearable computing like the Google Glass headset.

"What we're going to do with the grant is basically, we're going to try to use wearable computing to run our navigation system. Currently, our navigation system, which is called Navatar, requires users to hold a phone in there hand and in their other hand they hold a cane, so that makes it very difficult to detect landmarks--if you're counting doors that's kind of hard." 

Folmer says one of his main goals is to make indoor navigation technology affordable, so it's accessible.

As the baby boomer generation ages, Folmer says the number of blind people is expected to double in the next decade.