UMKC students develop app that helps visually impaired people ‘see’ what’s around them

KANSAS CITY, Mo. -- A group of UMKC Ph.D. candidates developed technology that could make life easier for people who are blind or have visual impairments.

It's called the DeepLens project and would use an iPhone app and glasses to narrate a scene in real time. The technology developed by Gharib Gharibi and his partners is a form of artificial intelligence called deep learning.

"So we are able to actually able to run video and images through advanced algorithms," Gharib Gharibi said. "The algorithms are able to describe by voice or narrate to the user what exists in that image."

The narration will tell people things like if it's safe to cross the street, or tell them what's in front of them. It works through a camera, glasses and headphones. The picture of video live streams into the app and the advanced algorithms do the work.

Gharibi is working on the project with help from his brother, Mohamed Gharibi, his brother and Saria Goudarzvand, another classmate.

Gharibi and his teammates are among 10 finalists in a UMKC entrepreneur competition. They won $30,000 in seed money to develop DeepLens.

"So the automatic mode is just running all the time to try to identify objects just by the environment you are in," Gharibi said. "So if you are in the classroom, it's probably going to read what's on the slides."

Then, there's the manual mode. The user selects what they are looking for, like an orange shirt.

The goal is to have this product become the primary, practical and affordable solution for people with visual impairments.

"I had a friend who had visual loss problems," Gharibi said. "We tired to help him by find some technology and products to help him, all the products on the market are very expensive and are very difficult to use and operate, not that helpful."

The glasses aren't built yet, but the app is in full effect. The team is looking forward to giving people sight and helping them succeed academically, socially and all around.

The DeepLens team and other finalists will head to Columbia next month for the UM System-wide Entrepreneurial Educator's Summit. They'll compete with other teams for a chance to win more money to develop the technology.

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