Since a very young age, Sina Bahram, a Ph.D. student at North Carolina State University in Raleigh, has been blind.
“I did have a little bit more usable vision as a kid than I do now,” said Bahram.
But being blind hasn’t slowed him down. He’s a Ph.D. student and president of a consulting company. He has learned to feel his way through life. But there’s still one thing that’s a challenge to navigate: traffic.
“If it is a very busy intersection and there are a lot of cars turning, that can be confusing,” Bahram said.
Now traffic engineers have developed a new 3-D map to help make it easier for the blind to become familiar with busy, confusing intersections, while staying safe.
“Our big focus has been on roundabouts, so circular intersections which are very challenging to cross for somebody who is blind, because traffic does not stop at regular intervals,” said Bastian Schroeder, a traffic engineer at NC State University.
The map is made using a 3-D printer and is an exact replica of a real-world roundabout. Different textures and raised surfaces indicate roads, landscaping and sidewalks. Touching the map and learning how traffic flows around it helps the blind, like Bahram, understand the intersection.
“We work with people who are blind or visually impaired and try and to find ways that they can understand the infrastructure and understand what intersections look like and feel like,” said Schroeder.
Bahram has used the map to learn about a nearby roundabout and hopes the maps will soon be in the hands of other visually-impaired users.
“The next challenges in the future are getting the awareness amongst blind users…so that people can learn about this tech,” said Bahram.
Researchers are working to get the technology into schools for the blind and other rehabilitation services that teach visually impaired prepare for the world.