A team of researchers from the University of Nevada in Reno (UNR) and the University of Arkansas in Little Rock (UALR) announced on Dec. 15 that they plan to develop a wearable robotic device that would assist visually impaired individuals to navigate past obstacles in their surroundings. The technological breakthrough is being developed with the $820,000 grant awarded by the National Institute of Health's (NIH) National Eye Institute division.

The National Robotics Initiative grant will give the research team three years to complete the project. The team is led by Yantao Shen, Assistant Professor at the University of Nevada and his research partner, Professor Cang Ye from the UALR Department of Systems Engineering and composed of their postdoctoral, graduate and undergraduate students

"The miniaturized system will contribute to the lives of visually impaired people by enabling them to identify and move objects, both for navigational purposes or for more simple things such as grasping a door handle or picking up a glass," Shen, lead researcher, said. He also noted that they hoped to expand the potential applications for the robotic hand. "Space exploration, military surveillance, law enforcement and search and rescue" can also benefit from the technology.

"It is a big success for Dr. Shen and a clear evidence of the continuous growth of our biomedical engineering and autonomous systems programs, which have become major areas of focus for the College of Engineering," Manos Maragakis, Dean of UNR's College of Engineering said.

Along with France's Pixium Vision and other advances to help the blind "see," it seems that we are taking another step further to improving the lives of our visually impaired brothers that will make even Louis Braille proud.

We truly are in the age when physical disabilities are no longer a hindrance through the aid of technological advances.

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