Maneuvering Through Traffic to Become Easier for Visually Impaired with Israeli-Developed App

“You shall not insult the deaf, or place a stumbling block before the blind. You shall fear your God: I am Hashem.” Leviticus 19:14)

Crossing the street safely, especially in heavy traffic, is one of the biggest challenges for the visually impaired and the blind. But help is on the way from two students from the Viterbi Faculty of Electrical Engineering at the Technion-Israel Institute of Technology in Haifa.

Roni Ash and Dolev Ofri have developed an innovative application expected to significantly assist the visually impaired and the blind. The app was presented at last year’s ICSEE International Conference in Eilat, Israel and has now won the Thomas Schwartz Outstanding Project Award.

The app allows visually impaired and blind pedestrians to safely cross the street at a traffic light. It recognizes the pedestrian traffic light and notifies the user of its color. The user only has to point the phone camera in the desired general direction – it does not need to be accurate – and the app notifies him or her if it is possible to cross. The need for the development of such assistive technology is particularly great when the crosswalk has no audio indication for the blind.

The app’s high credibility is based on deep learning – training an artificial neural network that learns to identify the traffic light color based on a large set of traffic light examples. 

The dataset used for training the system was built by the students who developed the app as an undergraduate final project in the Signal and Image Processing Laboratory (SIPL) and the faculty, which is headed by Prof. David Malah and laboratory engineer Nimrod Peleg. They performed the project under the guidance of lab engineer Yair Moshe and also received help from student Ayelet Cohen. The project is a collaboration of the lab with the social hub at the Technion.

To boost awareness of using the app and demonstrate its use, its creators are shooting these days a short humorous video. The video will be directed by filmmaker Elad Kidan, a winner of an Ophir film award –regarded as the “Israeli Oscars” given by the Israeli Academy of Film and Television to recognize the excellence of professionals in this country’s film industry. They are named after the late famed actor Shaike Ophir and first awarded in 1990. Kidan volunteered to direct the video after hearing about the app.