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  1. NavCog3 is a smartphone turn-by-turn navigation assistant system we developed specifically designed to enable independent navigation for people with visual impairments. Using off-the-shelf Bluetooth beacons installed in the surrounding environment and a commodity smartphone carried by the user, NavCog3 achieves unparalleled localization accuracy in real-world large-scale scenarios. By leveraging its accurate localization capabilities, NavCog3 guides the user through the environment and signals the presence of semantic features and points of interest in the vicinity (e.g., doorways, shops).To assess the capability of NavCog3 to promote independent mobility of individuals with visual impairments, we deployed and evaluated the system in two challenging real-world scenarios. The first scenario demonstrated the scalability of the system, which was permanently installed in a five-story shopping mall spanning three buildings and a public underground area. During the study, 10 participants traversed three fixed routes, and 43 participants traversed free-choice routes across the environment. The second scenario validated the system’s usability in the wild in a hotel complex temporarily equipped with NavCog3 during a conference for individuals with visual impairments. In the hotel, almost 14.2h of system usage data were collected from 37 unique users who performed 280 travels across the environment, for a total of 30,200m
  2. We study self-supervised adaptation of a robot's policy for social interaction, i.e., a policy for active communication with surrounding pedestrians through audio or visual signals. Inspired by the observation that humans continually adapt their behavior when interacting under varying social context, we propose Adaptive EXP4 (A-EXP4), a novel online learning algorithm for adapting the robot-pedestrian interaction policy. To address limitations of bandit algorithms in adaptation to unseen and highly dynamic scenarios, we employ a mixture model over the policy parameter space. Specifically, a Dirichlet Process Gaussian Mixture Model (DPMM) is used to cluster the parameters of sampled policies and maintain a mixture model over the clusters, hence effectively discovering policies that are suitable to the current environmental context in an unsupervised manner. Our simulated and real-world experiments demonstrate the feasibility of A-EXP4 in accommodating interaction with different types of pedestrians while jointly minimizing social disruption through the adaptation process. While the A-EXP4 formulation is kept general for application in a variety of domains requiring continual adaptation of a robot's policy, we specifically evaluate the performance of our algorithm using a suitcase-inspired assistive robotic platform. In this concrete assistive scenario, the algorithm observes how audio signals produced by the navigational systemmore »affect the behavior of pedestrians and adapts accordingly. Consequently, we find A-EXP4 to effectively adapt the interaction policy for gently clearing a navigation path in crowded settings, resulting in significant reduction in empirical regret compared to the EXP4 baseline.« less
  3. Navigation assistive technologies have been designed to support individuals with visual impairments during independent mobility by providing sensory augmentation and contextual awareness of their surroundings. Such information is habitually provided through predefned audio-haptic interaction paradigms. However, individual capabilities, preferences and behavior of people with visual impairments are heterogeneous, and may change due to experience, context and necessity. Therefore, the circumstances and modalities for providing navigation assistance need to be personalized to different users, and through time for each user. We conduct a study with 13 blind participants to explore how the desirability of messages provided during assisted navigation varies based on users' navigation preferences and expertise. The participants are guided through two different routes, one without prior knowledge and one previously studied and traversed. The guidance is provided through turn-by-turn instructions, enriched with contextual information about the environment. During navigation and follow-up interviews, we uncover that participants have diversifed needs for navigation instructions based on their abilities and preferences. Our study motivates the design of future navigation systems capable of verbosity level personalization in order to keep the users engaged in the current situational context while minimizing distractions.
  4. People with visual impairments often have to rely on the assistance of sighted guides in airports, which prevents them from having an independent travel experience. In order to learn about their perspectives on current airport accessibility, we conducted two focus groups that discussed their needs and experiences in-depth, as well as the potential role of assistive technologies. We found that independent navigation is a main challenge and severely impacts their overall experience. As a result, we equipped an airport with a Bluetooth Low Energy (BLE) beacon-based navigation system and performed a real-world study where users navigated routes relevant for their travel experience. We found that despite the challenging environment participants were able to complete their itinerary independently, presenting none to few navigation errors and reasonable timings. This study presents the first systematic evaluation posing BLE technology as a strong approach to increase the independence of visually impaired people in airports.