Apple hardware, smart clothing could guide the blind and deaf

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smart clothing
Apple is developing a device and some type of wearable that could help the deaf and blind
Photo: Apple/USPTO

Apple is developing technology that would combine a cylindrical device and possibly smart clothing to provide blind and deaf people tactile or auditory signals to navigate their environments.

According to a patent application filed by Apple today, the device would map the environment with sensor data and provide feedback. For the blind, the device could sync with an iPhone to provide spoken feedback to the blind. For the deaf, vibrating signals could be delivered to a wearable, such as a shirt or the Apple Watch.

Should a user be both blind and deaf, a touch screen could produce a “tactile sensation of bumps.” to provide information, according to the patent application.

smart clothing
A shirt that could receive signals from a device to help sensory impaired people navigate the environment.
Photo: Apple/USPTO

While the drawings show figures holding a cylindrical device, it is possible the iPhone could eventually serve as the sensory assistance device.

There is no telling whether Apple will bring the gadget or some type of smart clothing to market. Patents are awarded all the time and many ideas do not advance past the documents filed with the United States Patent and Trademark Office.

What the patent application does show is another example of how Apple’s Research and Development teams are working on more than just making a better iPhone.

Smartphone sales are stagnating and users, satisfied with their handsets, aren’t upgrading quickly. Tech companies, Apple in particular, are also beginning to acknowledge that users are getting maxed out on screen time and are turning to alternatives, such as a voice assistant like Siri or the Amazon Echo, for personal computing needs.

Apple is working hard to develop other products, like the Apple Watch, the HomePod, AirPods and, reportedly, a car. Apple also is, albeit slowly, responding to trends in gesture technology and voice commands and is always trying to improve Siri.

New York Times technology reporter Farhad Manjoo wrote this week that Apple and other companies, dependent on profits from smartphones sales, are considering a digital future less guided by the screen. He says users are starting to hit what he calls “Peak Screen.”

“So tech giants are building the beginning of something new: a less insistently visual tech world, a digital landscape that relies on voice assistants, headphones, watches and other wearables to take some pressure off our eyes,” Manjoo wrote. “Apple has never been scared of disrupting its own best inventions. By rethinking screens, it may have a chance to do that once more.”

The patent for people with sensory impairments, with reference to sensors that map the environment, potentially shows ideas that could be applied to a variety of technologies still being imagined.

According to the application, the device could determine the types of objects in an environment, recording size and location as it relates to a user’s height, and whether an object is moving and from which direction.

“People use a variety of senses to navigate and interact with the various environments they encounter on a daily basis,” Apple states in its application. “For example, people use their senses of sight and sound to navigate in their homes, on the street, through workplaces and shopping centers, and so on. Such environments may be designed and configured under the assumption that people will be able to use senses such as sight and sound for navigation. 

“The present disclosure relates to guidance devices for sensory impaired users. Sensor data may be obtained regarding an environment. A model of the environment may be generated and the model may be mapped at least to an input/output touch surface. Tactile output and/or other output may be provided to a user based at least on the mapping. In this way, a sensory impaired user may be able to navigate and/or interact with an environment utilizing the guidance device.”