IIT Kanpur: Researchers Develop Novel Smartwatch For The Blind And Visually Impaired

IIT Kanpur: Researchers Develop Novel Smartwatch For The Blind And Visually Impaired

by Karan Kamble - May 30, 2022 06:08 PM +05:30 IST
IIT Kanpur: Researchers Develop Novel Smartwatch For The Blind And Visually ImpairedSmartwatch (Photo: IIT Kanpur)
  • Developed by IIT Kanpur, the smartwatch for the blind and visually impaired has a touch-sensitive tactile interface that displays information using vibrations.

The Indian Institute of Technology (IIT), Kanpur, has announced the latest version of a smartwatch being developed for use by the blind and visually impaired.

The “haptic smart watch” has been made at the institute’s National Centre for Flexible Electronics (NCFlexE), thanks to the work of Professor Siddhartha Panda and Vishwaraj Srivastava.

While Panda is a professor at the Department of Chemical Engineering at IIT Kanpur, Srivastava is a project engineer at NCFlexE, having graduated from IIT Kanpur with a Master of Technology (M Tech) in materials science in 2020. The smartwatch was being developed as part of Srivastava’s M Tech thesis, with Prof Panda mentoring Srivastava.

Srivastava and Prof Panda even received the Ranjan Kumar Memorial Award at the 53rd Convocation of IIT Kanpur on 22 October 2020, earning recognition for being the best socially relevant project by a graduating student. A patent was filed for their tactile smart watch last on 23 March 2021. But the work on the watch has continued.

The haptic watch with a tactile interface makes it easy for the blind and visually impaired to read the time correctly by way of touch. According to IIT Kanpur, the time information on the watch is relayed to the user through vibrations.

The watch has no moving parts, such as the hour- and minute-hand needles, and, unlike some alternatives, doesn’t rely on audio to tell the time. Therefore, it enables private use of the watch, which would be a challenge if the time was communicated audibly.

“The dial face consisting tactile touch-sensitive hour markers and vibration-based output is used to read time, create an interface to select different apps, haptically recognize different apps, and to sense the numbers,” the release said.

Besides time, various health parameters can be sensed by the smartwatch users. Sensors like photoplethysmography (PPG) help to tell things like heart rate and oxygen saturation and an accelerometer helps to track daily activity. There is also a facility to set short timers on the watch.

“With this innovation, we aim to help visually impaired and blind with affordable devices using the latest technology,” IIT Kanpur director Abhay Karandikar said while relaying the news on social media.

According to a study published in the Lancet, in the year 2020, an estimated 43.3 million people were blind, 295 million had moderate and severe vision impairment, 258 million had mild vision impairment, and 510 million had visual impairment from uncorrected presbyopia.

In India in particular, there were an estimated 270 million people with vision loss, of whom 9.2 million were blind, in 2020.

By 2050, the number of blind worldwide is predicted to be 61 million, with 1.7 billion people carrying some form or degree of vision impairment, according to the GBD (Global Burden of Disease) Blindness and Vision Impairment Collaborators behind the Lancet study.

NCFlexE, where the IIT Kanpur smartwatch for the blind and visually impaired is taking shape since a couple of years, was established as a “centre of excellence” in November 2014 with a grant from the Ministry of Electronics and Information Technology (MeitY) and support from IIT Kanpur.

This centre seeks to “catalyse the development of domestic industry in the field of large area flexible electronics” through research and development, forging industry partnerships to explore manufacturing, and working to build a flexible electronics industry ecosystem.

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