Boston doctors: Video game helps blind navigate buildings

Researchers say blind people can improve their ability to navigate inside buildings by practicing with a video game. (Screen shot courtesy JoVE.com)
Researchers say blind people can improve their ability to navigate inside buildings by practicing with a video game. Credit: JoVE.com

A video game that uses a computer-generated layout of a building can help to prepare the blind to navigate the venue in real life by improving their spatial awareness, researchers said Wednesday.

The game, based in a building at the Carroll Center for the Blind in Newton, Mass., uses audio cues to help blind players find hidden jewels and remove them from the building without being spotted by roving monsters.

After competing in the game, researchers found the players were able to find their way around the building in real-life, suggesting video games could help blind people navigate places they frequent regularly.

“It is a tool to build a map of a place you have never been to before,” said Dr Lotfi Merabet, a neuroscientist at the Massachusetts Eye and Ear Infirmary and Harvard Medical School, whose team developed the software used in the game.

Merabet hopes the video game could be a first step in improving assisted technology for the blind, particularly technology-savvy teenagers.

The World Health Organization estimates there are 285 million visually impaired people worldwide.

“It could be a whole new way to help blind people interact with this information and conceptualize space around them,” Merabet added in an interview.

Merabet said the video game players were also better at finding alternate paths in the building than other blind people who had been taught the layout by walking through it.

“The video game not only allows you to build a map in your mind, it allows you to interact with it mentally in a way that you wouldn’t be able to if you were taught explicitly by walking through it,” Merabet explained.

The researchers tested the game on congenitally blind people and those who had lost their sight. The players ranged in age from teenagers to 45 years old.

Merabet and his team, who wrote about the video game in the Journal of Visualized Experiments, want to include large-scale mapping in the next version of the game and to use tactile cues and items developed for the video game industry.

But first he said they will have to demonstrate how long it takes to build the mental map, how complex they can make it, and the people best suited to learn this way.

They do not see it as a replacement for how blind people learn but as a supplement to enhance a skill they need, and to build self confidence.

“Somehow you become a better problem solver and you seem to somehow take in the information in a more robust fashion in this gaming scenario than if you sat down and we told you,” said Merabet.

“Video games are not just for sighted people. Blind people can not only play them but interact with them and enjoy them, and they can also be used to do constructive things.”

Follow Metro Boston on Twitter: @MetroBos



News
Entertainment
Sports
Lifestyle
Local

Winning $7 million New York lottery ticket sold…

The only $7 million winning New York Lottery ticket for Monday's Cash4Life drawing was sold at a Queens 7-Eleven, officials said on Tuesday.

Local

Brooklyn man charged in roommate's stabbing death

A Brooklyn man accused of violently stabbing his roommate to death on Monday is in police custody and faces murder charges.

International

Dinosaurs could have survived asteroid strike

It turns out there is a good and a bad time for the planet to be hit by a meteor, and dinosaurs were just unlucky.…

National

OkCupid admits to Facebook-style experimenting on customers

By Sarah McBrideSAN FRANCISCO (Reuters) - OkCupid, a top U.S. matchmaking website, intentionally mismatched users to test its technology, the IAC/InterActive Corp service said on…

Gossip

Playing the Field: Valentine's Day coupling edition

  It’s Valentine’s Day, a day created by Hallmark to make couples spend loads and loads of money on candy, flowers and gourmet dinners. Or…

Movies

Interview: Brendan Gleeson on the way 'Calvary' depicts…

Brendan Gleeson talks about how his new film "Calvary" began over drinks and how his character here is the opposite of the lead in "The Guard."

Movies

'Get on Up' producer Mick Jagger on the…

Mick Jagger, a producer on the James Brown biopic "Get on Up," talks about the time had to tell the singer some bad news and his favorite JB record.

Television

'Glee' star Lea Michele to appear on 'Sons…

"Glee" star Lea Michele has been confirmed as a guest star in the final season of "Sons of Anarchy."

College

Playing the Field: Valentine's Day coupling edition

  It’s Valentine’s Day, a day created by Hallmark to make couples spend loads and loads of money on candy, flowers and gourmet dinners. Or…

MLB

Angelo Cataldi: Ryan Howard deserves better from Phillies

Just last week, Ryan Howard endured the embarrassment of a benching that was inevitable, and yet still shocking.

NFL

Larry Donnell has inside track in Giants tight…

Little-known Larry Donnell of Grambling State currently has the inside track, as the second-year player has received the bulk of the first-team reps.

NFL

Computer to Jets: Start Michael Vick over Geno…

Jets general manager John Idzik says the choice of who starts between second-year quarterback Geno Smith and veteran Michael Vick will be a “Jets decision.”

Career

What do you wear to a career fair?…

Getting that gig starts with presenting the most polished and memorable version of yourself, so refer to our expert fashion advice.

Style

Editors pick: Margiela's finger armor ring

These cool rings from Maison Martin Margiela are designed to overlap over the finger, covering each joint like armor.

Style

Givenchy champions diversity

Riccardo Tisci's uses a variety of ethnically diverse ladies for his spring campaign including Erykah Badu.

Wellbeing

Don't settle for the hotel fitness center with…

Travelers who want to skip the hotel fitness center in favor of local gyms that may offer better equipment, classes and amenities can turn to…