ABBI: Audible Beacons for Visual Impairment

Introduction

The ABBI (Audible Bracelet for Blind Interaction) project has been developing an audio bracelet for visually impaired children. Audio bracelets are wearable sound sources that produce sound in response to movement. The main purpose of these audio bracelets is rehabilitation for visually impaired children, as they can be used in activities that improve spatial cognition. Some of our research at Glasgow investigated other ways of using sound to help visually impaired children, specifically while at nursery or school.

Audio Feedback in Schools

We spoke to visual impairment education experts to discover the problems that young visually impaired children have while at nursery and school. These discussions uncovered a number of problems, mostly relating to play and social activities. We also received many suggestions of how sound from audio bracelets and other devices could be used to address these problems; for example, using sound to encourage children to try new activities. Please see our CHI 2017 paper (details at end) for more about what we learned from this study.

We developed three scenarios that represent the issues we learned about, with examples of how sound from audio bracelets could be used to help. An online survey for visual impairment experts investigated design issues relating to these scenarios and their use of audio feedback. One of our main findings from this survey is that sound should not just come from audio bracelets. Instead, sound should also come from places in the room and from other peoples’ locations in the room. We also learned that speech and familiar sounds (e.g., from objects) should be used to inform children about nearby places and activities.

Audible Beacons

Our findings from these studies led to the development of Audible Beacons, devices that can produce sound and be used for estimating proximity to people or places. They are essentially Bluetooth beacons that can be remotely controlled to produce audio feedback. A small form-factor is necessary so that the beacons can be worn by children (like an audio bracelet) or placed in the room (like a beacon).

Audible Beacons combine audio output with Bluetooth beacon capabilities. They can be worn like an audio bracelet or placed in the room like a beacon.

Audible Beacons combine audio output with Bluetooth beacon capabilities. They can be worn like an audio bracelet or placed in the room like a beacon.

The audio bracelet produced by the ABBI project (shown below) has full Audible Beacon capabilities: it has Bluetooth for remote control, it has beacon functionality, and it can synthesise audio on demand.

The ABBI audio bracelet. A 3D printed enclosure can be worn on a wrist strap or placed in a room.

The ABBI audio bracelet. A 3D printed enclosure can be worn on a wrist strap or placed in a room.

Publications

  • Audible Beacons and Wearables in Schools: Helping Young Visually Impaired Children Play and Move Independently. Euan Freeman, Graham Wilson, Stephen Brewster, Gabriel Baud-Bovy, Charlotte Magnusson, and Hector Caltenco. Proceedings of CHI 2017.
  • Automatically Adapting Home Lighting to Assist Visually Impaired Children. Euan Freeman, Graham Wilson, and Stephen Brewster. Proceedings of CHI 2016 Extended Abstracts.

Videos

The following video accompanies our CHI 2017 paper.