Project Guideline: Enabling Those with Low Vision to Run Independently

Posted by Xuan Yang, Software Engineer, Google Research

For the 285 million people around the world living with blindness or low vision, exercising independently can be challenging. Earlier this year, we announced Project Guideline, an early-stage research project, developed in partnership with Guiding Eyes for the Blind, that uses machine learning to guide runners through a variety of environments that have been marked with a painted line. Using only a phone running Guideline technology and a pair of headphones, Guiding Eyes for the Blind CEO Thomas Panek was able to run independently for the first time in decades and complete an unassisted 5K in New York City’s Central Park.

Safely and reliably guiding a blind runner in unpredictable environments requires addressing a number of challenges. Here, we will walk through the technology behind Guideline and the process by which we were able to create an on-device machine learning model that could guide Thomas on an independent outdoor run. The project is still very much under development, but we’re hopeful it can help explore how on-device technology delivered by a mobile phone can provide reliable, enhanced mobility and orientation experiences for those who are blind or low vision.

Thomas Panek using Guideline technology to run independently outdoors.

Project Guideline
The Guideline system consists of a mobile device worn around the user’s waist with a custom belt and harness, a guideline on the running path marked with paint or tape, and bone conduction headphones. Core to the Guideline technology is an on-device segmentation model that takes frames from a mobile device’s camera as input and classifies every pixel in the frame into two classes, “guideline” and “not guideline”. This simple confidence mask, applied to every frame, allows the Guideline app to predict where runners are with respect to a line on the path, without using location data. Based on this prediction and the proceeding smoothing/filtering

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