Google is Developing an Android App to Help Guide Visually Impaired Users


“Lavender at 12 o’clock,” a virtual assistant calls out.

Meet Lookout, an Android app being developed by Google that can identify objects around you—from a pair of scissors to an exit sign to a lavender bush—and tell you exactly where they are located. The goal of the app, which will be made available on the Google Play store later in 2018, is to help guide people who are blind or visually impaired.

A visualization of how the Lookout app picks out objects in the background

Lookout is specifically built for Pixel phones. Users can place their phone in a lanyard worn around their neck, with the camera facing out. Once the app is open, users can select a mode that best describes the environment they’re currently in, whether that's being home, at work, in a shopping mall, or in a situation where they need to have text read aloud to them ("scan mode"). The “work and play” mode, for instance, will likely alert users when they’re next to an elevator or stairwell, while the “home” mode will identify your TV, washing machine, and kitchen table.

The Lookout app interface

After selecting a mode, the app begins to detect objects, text, and people using the phone’s camera. It uses machine learning to determine what information is most critical to the individual user based on their usage history, allowing it to improve over time.

It’s also designed to be mostly hands-free, allowing users to navigate their surroundings without having to constantly tap on the app. Users can cover the camera to pause detection, knock twice on their phone to resume detection, and use the fingerprint sensor to switch to a different mode. The app can also be controlled via bluetooth or work offline.

Lookout follows the 2017 release of Microsoft’s Seeing AI app for iOS, which acts as a “talking camera” by describing objects surrounding the user, according to The Next Web. As the tech news site points out, there’s one key difference, though:

“Lookout seems like it could be more useful as its various modes can help highlight only the important objects in one’s surroundings based on what they’re doing—and therefore cut out a whole lot of noise from the app.”

To see how the Lookout app works, check out this video from Google:

[h/t The Next Web]

Google Assistant Can Now Predict Flight Delays With 85 Percent Confidence

After checking in for your flight, fueling up with snacks, and packing your carry-on to zipper-bursting capacity, there's one thing left to do before heading to the airport: confirm that your flight will actually leave when it's supposed to. While there's no gadget that will spare you the frustration of flight delays, a new feature from Google Assistant could at least make you better prepared for them.

According to The Verge, Google's voice-activated smart service Google Assistant can now predict if your flight will leave behind schedule before the airline makes an official announcement. Just ask it something like "Hey Google, is my flight on time?" or "What's the status of the Delta flight from New York to Chicago?" and Google will use machine learning and historical flight status data to make an informed guess. Predictions are given with an 85 percent confidence rate, so while you shouldn't totally change your plans based on the forecast, you can make some preparations in case they turn out to be correct.

The feature isn't completely new for Google—users can already see flight delay predictions through Google Flights—but it is the first time it's available for Google Home owners through Assistant. As is the case with Google Flights, Google Assistant will give a reason for its prognosis if it knows one. Users can also elect to receive notifications on their phone so they can learn about any potential delays as soon as possible.

If you're the type of traveler who needs even more intel than Google has to offer, there's an app for that. LiveATC provides live audio feeds of the air traffic control channels of 1200 airports, so you can hear about the status of your flight in real-time.

[h/t The Verge]

New Website and App Helps Set Up Homeless People With Housing

Transitioning from homelessness to affordable housing is rarely a smooth process, but a new platform aims to make it a little easier. As Fast Company reports, Lease Up is an app and website designed to connect landlords to caseworkers looking to place people without homes in apartments in Los Angeles.

Lease Up, a project from the nonprofit People Assisting The Homeless (PATH), resembles a regular real estate search app. Case managers can narrow down results based on factors like bedroom size and proximity to spots like health clinics and grocery stores. On the other end, landlords can list an available apartment, and after it's been inspected, they're paid a holding fee of up to $1100 as an incentive to set it aside for a homeless client. The payment comes from a Los Angeles sales tax recently passed to help fund services for the homeless.

The platform offers a few advantages over the conventional way of doing things. Instead of juggling calls from multiple caseworkers before finding a tenant, Lease Up streamlines the process for landlords, and they can use the website and app as a customer service resource if they have any questions. In addition, listings are updated in real time, which can save time and frustration for case managers looking to find homes for their clients as quickly as possible.

By making it more convenient to list apartments, the team behind Lease Up hopes to get more landlords involved in programs that provide housing to homeless people. They aim to get at least 2000 listings uploaded to their database in 2019.

[h/t Fast Company]