VirtuNav: A virtual reality indoor navigation simulator with haptic and audio feedback for the visually impaired
VirtuNav provides a haptic-enabled Virtual Reality (VR) environment that facilitates persons with visual impairment to explore a 3D computerized model of a real-life indoor location, such as a classroom or hospital. For administrative purposes, the screen displays a 2D overhead view of the map to monitor user progress and location as well as the 3D reconstructed environment. The system offers two unique interfaces: a freeroam interface where the user can navigate and interact with the environment, and an edit mode where the administrator can manage test users, maps and retrieve test data. VirtuNav is a practical application offering several unique features including map design, semi-automatic 3D map reconstruction and object classification from 2D map data. Visual and haptic rendering of real-time 3D map navigation are provided as well as automated administrative functions including shortest path calculation, actual path traversal, and assessment of performance indicators including time taken for exploration and collision data. VirtuNav is a research tool for investigation of user familiarity developed after repeated exposure to the indoor location, to determine the extent to which haptic and/or sound cues improve a visually impaired user's ability to navigate a room or building with or without occlusion. System testing reveals that spatial awareness and memory mapping improve with user iterations within the VirtuNav environment. This application aims to promote confidence by independent exploration, for the sight impaired.