North West | Technology & innovation

St. Pete’s computer vision solution for visually impaired wins StartUp Cup

2 Dec '13
St. Petersburg’s Oriense has won this year’s StartUp Cup competition of business models with its device enabling visually impaired and blind people to navigate through the modern city completely unaided, the StartUp Cup event website announced last week.

StartUp Cup SPb has been put together by AAA Trust, a Russian investment company, Russian Venture Company (RVC), the St. Petersburg Chamber of Commerce, JCI St. Petersburg, and some other companies and organizations. The first-ever Russian final of the StartUp Cup business model contest took place on November 26, 2013 at the St. Petersburg Chamber of Commerce.

At the moment, Oriense has a fully developed prototype that can generate voice warnings about obstacles and recommendations about possible detours. At the heart of the new device is a specialized 3D sensor and computer vision algorithms that make it possible to analyze an environment and convert images into a text description of a user’s whereabouts. The 3D sensor is based on Oriense’s proprietary stereo camera and enables to generate a three-dimensional image both in daylight and at nighttime, outdoors and indoors alike.

“There are 180 million blind and visually impaired people in the world. With a bevy of technology solutions all they do actually use to navigate through the world is still a white stick and a guide dog. Moreover, such people find it difficult to locate an obstacle above the level of their sticks. Our device helps address this important problem of limited freedom of movements as it effectively identifies barriers and advises on how to skirt them, using a simple human language,” said Vitaly Kitaev, the project leader.

The prototype has undergone an initial series of testing at a local rehab center for the visually disabled. The developer wants to add a number of new functions later on, including GPS navigation, text, bus number and traffic light recognition capability, and other vital functionality helping such people in the city.

Oriense has plans to sell the device for about $1,000 apiece—a fairly competitive price compared to international analogs that sell at up to $15,000. Another monetization strategy includes renting it out for $50/month on a ‘product-as-a-service’ model.
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