21st Century Guide Dog

Here’s a startup idea that will make the world a better place: Replace guide dogs and white canes with mobile streaming video. Use a service like Qik, Ustream.tv, or Kyte to stream video from mobile devices carried by blind people. Video streams will be watched by volunteers across the Internet, Mechanical Turk style.

Watchers will commit not to take their eyes off the screen during their shifts. When the blind person wants to cross the street, for example, they’ll indicate it by pressing a button or shaking the phone (in accelerometer-enabled devices like the iPhone). The watcher will pay extra attention, and guide the blind person using voice instructions (“Stop, car on your right”). For extra safety, more than one watcher can monitor each video stream at a given time.

The challenges in turning this into reality involve reliability, dependability, and cost. I assume that getting people to volunteer shouldn’t be a problem.

What do you think about this? is it feasible? will people buy into that? leave a comment.

Edit: almost 10 years after publishing this post, there are now free, paid, and AI solutions to this problem. The answers to the questions I asked back then are clearly positive, and with hindsight, I now feel that I missed this opportunity. Having said that, I am glad that others picked it up and are actively helping the blind.