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On Tech & Vision With Dr. Cal Roberts

Dec 10, 2021

This podcast is about big ideas on how technology is making life better for people with vision loss.

Today’s big idea is about exciting and emerging technologies that will someday allow people who are blind or visually impaired to navigate fully autonomously. In this episode, you will meet Jason Eichenholz, the Co-Founder and CTO of Luminar, and his manufacturing engineer, Nico Gentry. Luminar’s LIDAR technology is instrumental to the development of self-driving cars, but this same technology could be useful for people who are blind or visually impaired, who also have to navigate autonomously. You’ll hear from Thomas Panek, the President and CEO of Guiding Eyes for the Blind, an avid runner who dreamed of running on his own. He took this unmet need to a Google Hackathon and Ryan Burke, the Creative Producer at Google Creative Lab put together a team to develop a solution that turned into Project Guideline. Kevin Yoo, Co-Founder of WearWorks Technology is using inclusive design to develop Wayband, a navigation wristband that communicates directions with users via haptics.


The Big Takeaways:

  • Since LIDAR uses a shorter wavelength of light than other sensing technologies it creates the most nuanced image, but unlike a camera, LIDAR also measures the distance to each element in the landscape, making it perfect for self-driving cars. And the fact that LIDAR sensors have gotten better and cheaper for self-driving cars has made them available as well for technologies that help people who are blind and visually impaired. LIDAR’s Jason Eichenholz and his engineer, Nico Gentry; who is visually impaired; dive deep into the broad benefits of  LIDAR for self-driving cars and for autonomously navigating people.
  • As an avid runner who is visually impaired, Thomas Panek, President and CEO of Guiding Eyes for the Blind, decided to take matters into his own hands, and enlist Google to help build him a tool that would allow him to run without a guide — human or canine. Ryan Burke weighs in on how his prototype, Project Guideline, helps people like Thomas run safely.
  • We can’t talk about running safely without talking about GPS. Kevin Yoo of WearWorks Technology has developed a wearable band called Wayband to help pedestrians navigate different paths and terrain more accurately by connecting to GPS maps. And he’s developing a haptic language that will allow users to understand nuanced directions without the need for visual or audio feedback.



  • “The big difference of LIDAR technology over sonar or radar is the wavelength of light. So because the wavelength of light is so much shorter, you're able to get much higher spatial resolution. [...] So what you're able to do is to have [....] camera-like spatial resolution with radar-like range, you're getting the best of both worlds.”  — Jason Eichenholz, of LIDAR technology.
  • “The learning curve to be able to run as fast as my legs could carry was being able to train to those beeping sounds and fine-tuning those sounds with the Google engineering team.” — Thomas Panek
  • “It's a compass; it's a vibration compass. And literally, as you rotate, [...] we can literally guide you down the line of a curvy road by creating this Pac-Man-like effect. So what we call these dew points. So as soon as you collect the dew point, it will guide you to the next one.” — Kevin Yoo


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