American tech giant IBM has announced a new app dubbed LineChaser to help people with visual disabilities maintain a safe distance from others around them amid the COVID-19 pandemic. The app was presented at the ongoing ACM Chi Conference 2021, which is taking place online to ensure everyone’s safety. IBM says LineChaser detects nearby pedestrians by relying on the phone’s RGB camera and built-in infrared depth sensor that estimates their position. The tech giant adds that built-in sensors help the app to determine whether nearby pedestrians are standing in line, and they are further directed by audio and vibration signals to ensure a safe distance. The LineChaser app is not yet available on Google Play or Apple App Store, and the company is to share more details over its availability. The company adds the app was also able to help visually impaired users stop at “acceptable positions” 91.7 percent of the time while following a line. A commercial rollout could be highly useful, at a time, when everyone is advised to follow strict social distancing rules to curb the spread of the virus.
IBM notes the trial participants who tested LineChaser had various visual difficulties, but the app “successfully enabled” everyone to both find and follow a line. “They all successfully found the end of a line at appropriate positions, indicating that LineChaser can navigate a blind user properly to the end of a line,” the company stated in a blog post. One of the challenges with the development is that smartphones need to ensure they come equipped with IR Blaster. IBM says it hopes that acceptance of the use of camera devices in public spaces will improve over time.
Notably, IBM tackled similar problems for people with visual disabilities back in 2020 with the AI Suitcase — a suitcase-style navigation robot that aims to help the visually impaired to move around the city “independently.” The company relied on LiDAR and RGB-D camera devices to create. Speaking of LiDAR, Apple also started testing an update for iPhone 12 users with visual impairment to them help effectively maintain a social distance by indicating how far away other people are from them.