By Louise Roseingrave
Irish Examiner
March 26, 2012

A Cork student who created a device that allows visually impaired people to ‘see’ obstacles in their path is to showcase his work in Europe.

Kieran O’Callaghan, a former ‘Innovative Engineer of the Year’, designed the navigation aid after defining areas that present particular difficulties to the visually impaired, including doors, outdoor obstacles and steps.

The 27-year-old Cork Institute of Technology student is a finalist at the European Student Innovation Finals taking place in France.

Selected as one of 42 finalists from 28 countries, his project is based on an interactive obstacle detection device that operates in real time.

Through consultation work with visually impaired people through the Irish Guide Dogs for the Blind and the National Council for the Blind of Ireland, he pinpointed areas of difficulty that could be tackled.

The device allows the user to identify the presence, size and distance of objects, through a display unit inserted in the mouth.

The VisionRETM devicesegments and classifies obstacles and presents 3D information to the user in an intuitive manner via multimodal electro-tactile, vibro-tactile and audio human machine interfaces.

“It uses a 3D camera and I’ve written algorithms that take information from the camera and look for obstacles in direct path of visually impaired persons.

“It can detect how far away an object is and what the obstacle might be,” Mr O’Callaghan said.

A pole can be identified through an electrical stimulant felt as a tingling sensation in the mouth.

“The algorithms will segment the pole as a long slender device and the unit will display this as a long slender object on the persons tongue, through an electrical simulation. The tongue is used to feel the shape of objects in front of a person, the distance coordinates and how big the object is,” he said.

With more than 200,000 visually impaired people in Ireland, 2.5m in Britain and 15.5m in Europe, he is hopeful the device will be developed and commercialised.

Developed under the supervision of Dr Michael O’Mahony, the Vision RETM is the latest in a series of pioneering devices designed by Mr O’Callaghan for visually impaired people, including a swimming aid, the Aqua Eye, designed to notify visually impaired swimmers of their position in the pool and approach to the pool wall.

He won Innovative Engineer of the Year in 2008 with Siemens and Engineer’s Ireland with the Aqua Eye.

* The finals take place tomorrow and Wednesday.