Microsoft funds AI navigation app to aid visually impaired

By Ollie Mulkerrins
Microsoft has funded iMerciv’s development of AI accessibility app designed to help visually or mobility impaired navigate crowded city streets. Micr...

Microsoft has funded iMerciv’s development of AI accessibility app designed to help visually or mobility impaired navigate crowded city streets.

Microsoft has announced its plan to fund 11 organisation’s research under the Microsoft AI for Accessibility programme. iMerciv is a Toronto-based start-up included in the initiative.

The five-year CA$25mn project is aimed to design AI tools that are able to enable people with disabilities. The technology will offer more independence and support to those it could benefit most.

iMerciv is working on MapinHood, a navigation tool for mobile devices that allows a pedestrian to more effectively navigate city streets, aimed at offering assistance for the visually impaired or for people using wheelchairs. The MapinHood app intends to use the funding to pay for Azure machine learning licences to improve learning, storage and virtual machine capabilities along with other AI components needed in the future.

The app will use audio ques to warn users of obstacles on a path such as stairs, low hanging branches, street lamps, benches, water fountains and road signs that could otherwise cause trouble for disabled pedestrians.

“We have built a fully-flexible, customized routing engine that only caters to pedestrians. The MapinHood app is essentially a crowd-sourced mobile mapping platform built for pedestrians by pedestrians,” said Arjun Mali, iMerciv Co-founder.

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Current navigation systems use satellite positioning to best ascertain a user’s location and calculate the shortest and most efficient route to reach a destination, over longer distances. Mali has seen a gap in the solutions offered, users wanting to have a route with more accessibility, cohesively mapped over short journeys, are not being catered to.

Mali plans to make iMerciv’s navigation as interactive and, as the name suggests, as immersive as possible. MapinHood is currently in the alpha stages with testing being conducted through four of iMerciv’s partners. Canadian National Institute for the Blind, Spinal Cord Injury Ontario, Walk Toronto and Microsoft have all partnered together to contribute to the success of iMerciv, with Microsoft also offering it’s own AI and machine learning developments.

Microsoft has been turning more of its attention towards its CSR strategy. Plans to improve accessibility for many of its products have already been rolled out. Recently Microsoft’s entertainment division has been pressing video game developers to present accessibility options within games. For example, Colourblind mode allows gamers to receive controller prompts without using colour coding to identify which button they need to press. Similarly an X-Box controller was released which uses touch pad technology and a modular design to enable users to customise the remote to individual requirements to allow games to have lesser demands of a users manual dexterity.

The company is expecting to have the app in the hands of consumers by March 2020 on iOS and Android, in Toronto and the Greater Toronto area to. If you’re interested in the app can visit the website and subscribe for more information.

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