The Android Challenge reemerged in December 2019 with a new global ask of the developer community. The goal was to create helpful innovations powered by on-device machine learning (ML). Not ones to shy away from any challenge, a team of Bottle Rocket engineers, along with our friends at Google, collaborated to create a one-of-a-kind app that not only earned them a finalist position in the Android Challenge, but also solved a key issue for the visually impaired.
The goal of the Path Finder app is to help users navigate through public environments and all the unknowns surrounding them. Leveraging the ML capabilities of Android, Path Finder helps people with visual impairments by identifying and calculating the trajectories of objects moving in their path. Custom alerts then inform the user of how to avoid these obstacles and what actions they can safely make.
“What started as a simple idea among Rocketeers was selected as one in a handful of finalists out of over 500 applicants,” says Colin Shelton, Lead Android Engineer. “Our ML club is always looking for new opportunities to flex our technical chops and experiment with technology in new ways and this challenge was the perfect opportunity to do just that while also doing something good for the world.”
The app brings together object detection and depth mapping and uses TensorFlow Lite to calculate distances of surrounding objects. It is designed to augment the user’s experience, share information, and give support, not overwhelm them in difficult situations. Both audible and haptic feedback are part of alert system, while a range of pitches and frequencies communicate each object’s distance and direction. Audio patterns, like Morse Code, are then layered and combined for sharing further information. The app helps visually impaired users gain the advantage of foresight, making public environments easier to navigate.
“I am so impressed with this team of engineers and other Rocketeers who worked hard to produce the Path Finder app,” says Calvin Carter, Bottle Rocket’s Founder and CEO. “It’s proof that a small group of committed and passionate people all leaning in the same direction can achieve big things together.”
The Path Finder app is currently featured among other finalists in a curated ML collection by Google. Download the app here: https://play.google.com/store/apps/details?id=com.br.ml.brpathfinder.
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