Could drones help blind athletes?

Oct 7, 2014

A UNR unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV).

A serious health concern for many blind people is a lack of exercise because they may not have easy access to it. Reno Public Radio's Michelle Bliss reports that a researcher at the University of Nevada, Reno is exploring how drones could provide a solution.


If a blind person wants to run safely, they can always hop on a treadmill.

"...but that's kind of boring," says Eelke Folmer, an associate professor of computer science at UNR.

If blind people want to ditch the treadmill and get some fresh air, they have to rely on the help of a guide, a friend who leads them across streets, over curbs, and around bends using a tether rope.

"But, obviously, if you depend on someone else for your ability to exercise that limits how long and how frequently you can exercise," Folmer explains. "That's a big problem for blind athletes."

Folmer's research team will be figuring out if drones can take the place of human guides, leading blind runners across outdoor terrain by hovering close by and offering auditory commands.

UNR has just launched the Nevada Advanced Autonomous Systems Innovation Center, or NAASIC, for research like Folmer's. The state has given $3 million to the effort and the operation will eventually be located in downtown Reno.