Most of us take our mobility for granted. But for the 285 million people around the globe with some form of visual impairment—39 million of whom have irreversible blindness—being able to navigate their homes, schools, and workplaces is a constant challenge. That could change, however, thanks to 3D-Kindio, a system that combines the cameras from the Xbox Kinect, 3D sound, and augmented reality software to help blind people identify direction, distance, and places.

The creators of 3D-Kindio are four Qatar University students—Fatma Al-Mesaifri, Maryam Al-Ansari, Roquaya Al-Shaabi, and Yasmin Halwani—who got to know visually impaired students on campus and saw firsthand how difficult it is for them to get around independently. Other resources for the visually impaired, such as robots or intelligent canes with sensors, aren't always suitable for crowded environments like a college campus. The team decided to come up with a better solution for Microsoft's student innovation competition, the Imagine Cup.


3D-Kindio works by sensing objects in a user's path and then emitting auditory cues that change in speed and pitch depending on the user's proximity to the object. It also uses customized digital tags that help a user identify objects in their environment. The system can be installed on a stylish hat and then worn with headphones so that the sound cues can be heard. The user also wears a backpack or vest that carries the laptop or tablet that runs the system.

The system is still a prototype. In the video below between 6:12-8:00 you can see a demonstration of how it enables someone without vision to be able to walk around a room and identify things, all without any assistance. Al-Mesaifri says the team is thinking of replacing the laptop or tablet that runs the system with a tiny microprocessor, or enabling it to run on a mobile phone so that it's smaller and lighter, which would make it easier for users.

The team also created buzz at the Imagine Cup for being one of three all-female teams at the competition. They took the attention in stride. "Females are capable of doing whatever males can do, especially in the technology sector," said Al-Mesaifri. Indeed, projects like 3D-Kindio are at the vanguard of wearable technology and are sure to open the world to the visually impaired.