'Eyes-Free Yoga' turns Kinect into teacher for the blind

"Exergame" aims to turn yoga into an activity the sight-impaired can enjoy more easily by tracking their motions and offering verbal cues on how to strike poses correctly.

When UW doctoral student Kyle Rector lowers her arms in Warrior II pose, the Kinect responds with a verbal command to raise them to at least an 80-degree angle from her spine. (Click to enlarge.) Kyle Rector/University of Washington

Some tools for visually impaired yoga practitioners already exist, including a Visually Impaired Yoga Mat with raised and depressed sections strategically placed to guide a student's hands, feet, and head, and a yoga board that communicates through body sensations.

The UW researchers acknowledge that when it comes to more complex yoga poses, human intervention may need to augment the customized vocal commands of Eyes-Free Yoga. But they nonetheless regard it as a promising way to transform a typically visual-aided activity into something blind people can enjoy more easily.

"I see this as a good way of helping people who may not know much about yoga to try something on their own and feel comfortable and confident doing it," Kientz said in a statement. "We hope this acts as a gateway to encouraging people with visual impairments to try exercise on a broader scale."

This isn't the first time the Kinect or Kinect-like hardware has been tapped to assist the blind. It's been turned into a haptic navigation belt and used to give voice notifications of physical obstacles on a path. The Kinect has also been used to advance health and health education in other ways: enabling surgeons to view and manipulate medical images via gesture and voice control and helping to teach anatomy .

The UW team plans to make Eyes-Free Yoga available online so users, blind and sighted alike, can download the program, plug in their Kinect, and start getting into Tree pose. The team also is pursuing other fitness-related projects.


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