Everyone has a right guaranteed by law to have opportunities to participate in sports. However, this right is not always realized for people with various disabilities. In order to change this situation, this R&D project aims to assist blind runners, who usually run with an escort, to freely run on their own by using a smartphone, in response to their desire to “run at their own will without depending on someone else.” By using image recognition AI that integrates machine learning technology, a smartphone attached to the runner’s waist reads a line drawn on the ground, instantly determines the runner’s location, and sends an audio signal through headphones. The signal enables runners to run without deviating from the line. The project was covered in mass media and was used in the opening ceremony of the Tokyo Paralympic Games in 2021. The R&D is conducted in collaboration with communities of users.
©︎ Google Project Guideline
With a seemingly simple idea using machine learning, this project makes us aware that there are still many relevant cases that can be integrated into machine learning today, in terms of the direction of technology utilization. This project, however, appears to be still in its infancy. Many technical issues exist before making it possible to run freely and safely in places with or without guidelines (e.g., public roads and riverbanks), but I very much hope the project will go on. I hope this technology will leap forward to ultimately surpass the functions of human eyes and enable anyone to run in places where no one has been able to run before, by making full use of the advantages of machine eyes. It would be great if the lessons learned in this project would lead to different projects to address inconveniences, disabilities, unfair circumstances, and imbalances that still exist in many parts of the world. (HASEGAWA Ai)
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