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Guiding system for visually impaired for running on a track

Final Report Summary - BLINDTRACK (Guiding system for visually impaired for running on a track)

Executive Summary:
In the modern society the active lifestyle, the responsible thinking on personal health have become more and more important. Thanks to the spreading of the “new age” theories such as the reform nutrition, the importance of the regularly sport has being spread. These theories are all related to one basic question: how is it possible to improve our life in order to stay healthy as long as it is possible especially to avoid the early chronic endemic diseases such as the cardio- and neurovascular disorders, cancers and abnormal psychic changes (i.e. depression, anxiety disorders, panics etc.). This trend is valid also for people living with various disabilities. However the changes in the developed world have already begun a lot of improvements are still missing and the necessary steps getting more and more important.
Several studies proved that regular sport activity could reduce the risk of the chronic disorders and could help to preserve our mind and body health. Therefore, in the developed countries doing sport became insomuch popular as it has never been before. One of the most popular sport activity is the running due to the low equipment need, fair costs and its positive effect on the entire body and mind.
Although the popularity of the running is high among the “normal” society this trend is not valid for the society with disorders. Generally those who are living with some kind of disability (mental or physical) are usually much less active, therefore their immune system is weaker and their health worse. For example the risk of the cardio vascular diseases (stroke, myocardial infarction, angina, peripheral artery disease etc.) among the visually impaired society is significantly higher which is getting a more and more serious problem.
BLINDTRACK project has the aim to improve the life of the visually impaired society all over the world involving them into the active, sporty lifestyle with the help of the running. The consortium developed a complex guiding system for the visually impaired runners. With this equipment they are able to run independently on a 400 m long running track continuously. Our device is capable to navigate and guide 10 blind and 20 sighted people on an athletic field simultaneously. The device will be a great opportunity for the visually impaired people to enter the sportier and healthier lifestyle, to enjoy the running alone and to taste the total freedom of movement, which is incomparable to any other currently existing solutions.

Project Context and Objectives:
The BLINDTRACK was a two years long EU funded project in the FP7 framework. It started on the 1st January 2013 and ended on the 31th December 2015. The main objective of the project was to develop a running facility embedded to a 400 m athletic track for visually impaired people to run without another person’s assistance.
In order to achieve these overall goals the following scientific and technological objectives were identified in project period:

• To understand the tactile sensing and the perception mechanism in different conditions.
• To develop a guidance software algorithm, which can track a moving (running) person on a trajectory without wobbling.
• Based on the gained knowledge in tactile sensing, and the developed algorithm, the guidance of a person will be possible, without breaks between the guidance instructions and the reaction of the user –in real time.
• To adapt the FRAUNHOFER’s currently existing BlackFIR positioning technology to reach the desired accuracy of maximum 50 cm to have the system enough safety margin.
• To develop the control software for the whole system. This software will localize all the runners on the track, and guide the blind users along their lane and prevents collisions.
• To develop a tactile belt which gives clear instructions to its user about the necessary moving direction This belt has to be lightweight, ergonomic and be able to operate for long time after the batteries charged.
• To design the embedded board of the belt. This board will control the vibration motors in order to the guidance instructions to guide the blind runner inside the lane, and avoiding collisions.
• To integrate of prototype system for validation and advertising purposes.
• To install the system into the stadium in Nurnberg, and check the system parameters defined in the specification.

Project Results:
The main objective of the BLINDTRACK project was to involve the visually impaired society into the active sporty lifestyle by providing them a unique equipment for running. This equipment is designed for standard 400 m long athletic field and is able to guide multiple blind and visually impaired users during running without collision. The device substitutes the running guides during the activity providing formerly unimaginable freedom.

The prototype builds up three main parts: (1) a specific locating system (BlackFIR) which is able to give high precision position information about the runners in real-time. The navigation of the runners is done by (2) a special belt (BELT) that transmits the necessary information toward the users by vibrations. A (3) central control unit (CCU) controls the entire system and creates the connection between the position information and the navigation process by predicting the trajectory of each runner with the help of a specific algorithm.

The BlackFIR was developed by IIS and the main challenge here was to adapt the existing system for the BLINDTRACK needs. That meant three things: (1) to increase the accuracy of the system in order to reach at least the 0.5 m locating precision. (2) to decrease the system’s latency time as much as possible to get frequent position data about the runners. (3) to reduce the cost of the system. To achieve these goals the receiver part of the system (antennas) was redesigned and the complete control firmware was revised. After several iterations the final BlackFIR was set properly and the desired accuracy (<0.5 m) and latency time (<10 ms) was reached. To reduce the overall costs for the BlackFIR localization system a new receiver front-end was designed. This leads to a complexity reduction of the FPGA board. Using a multichannel analogue digital converter instead of a dedicated single analogue digital converter. The overall cost reduction of the unit is about 30% taking into account the complete manufacturing chain.
The BELT module is designed by IBV and ATEKNEA in cooperation. The basis of the module was the product of ELITAC but that was completely redesigned for the project needs. The BELT module includes a textile part an elastic open band on which the electrical parts are fixed. The eight tactile motors are distributed along the belt and connecting to the control board through snap buttons and electrical wires. The wires are enclosed in the elastic material. The control board includes an MCU a Wi-Fi chip and a compass module. The Wi-Fi chip is responsible for the smooth communication with the CCU. It operates on 5 GHz instead of 2.5 GHz to avoid the interference with the BlackFIR since its useful bandwith is 2.4 GHz. The compass unit provides the actual heading information of the runner. This is a critical additional data for the proper guiding since the firmware of the belt makes corrections with the heading information of the runner on the data coming from prediction algorithm and vibrates the right actuator on the belt. Without the compass unit the system does not know which the actual heading direction of the runner is and therefore it has no information which tactor should vibrate next. The MCU of the board controls the entire belt and keeps the communication with the CCU. Due to the prudent development the average operation time of one belt is about 4 hours which is enough for the end-users needs.
The CCU was completely developed by ATEKNEA. It is responsible for controlling the entire BLINDTRACK system and calculating the trajectory of the runners. Therefore this unit has several parts. The heart is the prediction algorithm which is responsible for the precise guiding of the visually impaired runners ensuring the collision free running. In order the runners trust the system it is essential to reach the flawless and the real-time operation. This is a key issue not only for the project sake but also for the future usage convincing the potential end-users/customers. The algorithm is based on the theory of the swarm robotics controlling. Every athlete is considered as an entity, and in most cases for guidance the nearby surroundings is considered only. From the collected data the current status of the athlete is determined. Besides the prediction algorithm the CCU established the communication channels towards the BlackFIR and the BELT modules. It also manages the MySQL database of the system and the responsive, platform free user interface based on Wordpress engine. The entire CCU runs on the separate BLINDTRACK server machine that is independent from the local network. The user interface can be reached from any host machine and it manages the different user roles.
During the project lifetime all of these modules were implemented successfully and the entire system was tested. Several system performance tests were taken on the field where the parameters of the system were optimized. At the end of the project the end-user test was performed with great success. Six visually impaired volunteers tested the BLINDTRACK prototype according a preliminary test plan. Every user was satisfied the performance of the system and would use it during trainings.

Potential Impact:
According to the European Blind Union an average of 1 in 30 Europeans experiences sight loss. Partially sighted persons are 4 times more than blind people and altogether there are over 30 million blind and partially sighted persons in geographical Europe (nearly 10% of the total visually impaired population). On a world-wide basis 285 million people are blind or visually impaired. Of these 285 million people, 39 million are blind. . Visual impairment is a large and growing socioeconomic problem that research and development project could compensate and help involve this part of the society into the healthy society. With BLINDTRACK project the consortium reached great success and aims to offer a product for visually impaired sportsmen thus generating high socio impact with involving the athletes. The product offers them the feeling of individual training possibility. The positive effects of sport are proved for physical but also for mental condition. With the motivation of visually impaired people of doing running and being more active help them in a smoother integration to the majority. The tests with volunteers brought absolutely positive messages from the runners and proved the earlier hypothesis. The future development concentrates on stabilizing the system and makes it absolutely reliable and marketable in the coming years. Since sport infrastructural possibilities are weak for visually impaired at the moment BLINDTRACK has an outstanding possibility to lead this niche.
In a wider scope BLINDTRACK offers a unique product to the assistive technology (AT) market providing access to leisure activities. It is a possibility both for individuals and organizations to do their training in secured environment independently. Furthermore, BLINDTRACK is a useful tool as a rehabilitation package for people with sight disorders and it contributes to their social inclusion and broadens the available leisure time activities. The market of AT is a 30 billion euros market in Europe and suffers from fragmentation. Since the most visually impaired are in Asia and America SME partners seek third party distributors and will extend the market to a world-wide level. The projects like BLINDTRACK are essential to keep Europe active and successful in the AT market. European legislation such as the new Disability Strategy also influences these researches and helps more quickly address the needs of sector and answer to the competitive threat from large enterprises and world AT innovations.
SMEs have finalized the business strategy and exploitation plan. All of the SME partners such as technical distributor and end-user SMEs are very positive about the future financial calculations and reckon that with this unique technology they will radically increase their potentials in the AT market. This optimism is based on the end-user survey that was implemented in Spain in the Netherland in Norway. The results of this are detailed in D8.2. Relevant national and regional associations such as the BBS (Bildungszentrum für Blinde und Sehbehinderte) and BBSB (Bavarian blind- and visual impaired union and the Spanish ONCE strengthened the consortium about their support and future cooperation. They welcomed the project and eagerly wait for the final marketable product.
Beside the development of AT products, the project has additional economic effects such as reducing health care expenditures. It is a proven fact that regular physical activity has positive effect on health condition. This means that involving people doing sport causes positive changes in health care expenditure. Therefore, EU intends to enhance the level of physical activity with various legislations such as European Sports Charter, European Charter on Counteracting Obesity, EU White Paper on Sport, 2008–2013 Action Plan for the Global Strategy for the Prevention and Control of Non-communicable Diseases, The European Commission’s Communication on sport, etc. The document of Promoting sport and enhancing health in European Union countries enhances that all of the national sport strategies focus on infrastructural development and making better use of existing facilities. BLINDTRACK is offered both for newly made and also for existing facilities and promoting healthy lifestyle also for visually impaired people.
All partners were actively involved in the planning and implementation of the dissemination activities in order to promote the funded project and the collaboration to a wider audience.
The partners usually used their already existing communication channels and beside those new ones were identified. Dissemination materials prepared at the beginning phase of the project were used for spreading non-confidential project information. In the second project period in which development work entered into a more concrete and demonstration level delivered important results that dissemination helped intensify. The impact of actions was measured by the number of interested audience or by the number of participant of the specific event.
Based on the key aspects of dissemination established the consortium has completed the following main dissemination activities in the second period of the project:
• Developing the project website: One of the most important dissemination channels of the project is the website that contains updated information for all stakeholders and also for the public. Although the website was set up in the beginning of the project. It was not finalised but kept under continuous development. After the first review a new section was given to it that informs people about the product itself not only about the project.
• Newsletters were also issued both in the first and second period too summarising the most important steps of project progress.
• Other marketing materials: Partner Fraunhofer participated at various professional conferences and gave a presentation about the Blindtrack goals at ICSPORTS in October 2014. A publication was also done in a similar topic.
• Dissemination to interest groups: ADAPTOR and INFOALAP presented actual information on BLINDTRACK at various fairs( Vision, Sightcity, etc.), workshops and conferences-detailed in the dissemination action list of the report-reaching a wide range of target audience
• Dissemination at business meetings: SME participants were spreading information on the project within their present clientele and network of business associates.
The project was presented at the following platforms including fairs and conferences:
• Leaders in Performance (12 11 2014) Fraunhofer visited the event in London and reported the most significant progress of Blackfir technology.
• Norwegian Olympic and Paralympic Committee and Confederation of Sports(24-26 10 2015) Adaptor presented Blindtrack results for the Committee.
• National Congress on Accessibility In Bilbao, where ENESO represented the project and shared public project information with the participants
• AAATE 2015, Budapest (8-12 09 2015) Two papers were presented at the conference’s two different section one by IBV one by Ateknea.
• The other relevant events are detailed in D9.5.

Knowledge Management and IPR protection activities were supporting the participating SMEs for protecting and using the research results to their best advantage leading to a clear economic impact. The potential intellectual property considerations have been assessed with the aim to prepare for protective measures and prevent unauthorised commercial exploitation of the results developed.
With the active lead of the Exploitation Manager, Mr. Jasper Dijkman the consortium implemented a ripe and well-thought out strategy for IPR and knowledge management. Patent search and market search was regularly done by partners active on the market that gave a lot of extra background information to partners.
Partners decided not to launch a patenting process due to the fact that the most important elements, such as Blackfir and the methodology of tactile belt are protected the complete system of Blindtrack will not be patented.

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