A Multi-Modal Foundation Model to Assist People with Blindness and Low Vision in Environmental Interaction

Yu Hao, Fan Yang, Hao Huang, Shuaihang Yuan, Sundeep Rangan, John-Ross Rizzo, Yao Wang, Yi Fang

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


People with blindness and low vision (pBLV) encounter substantial challenges when it comes to comprehensive scene recognition and precise object identification in unfamiliar environments. Additionally, due to the vision loss, pBLV have difficulty in accessing and identifying potential tripping hazards independently. Previous assistive technologies for the visually impaired often struggle in real-world scenarios due to the need for constant training and lack of robustness, which limits their effectiveness, especially in dynamic and unfamiliar environments, where accurate and efficient perception is crucial. Therefore, we frame our research question in this paper as: How can we assist pBLV in recognizing scenes, identifying objects, and detecting potential tripping hazards in unfamiliar environments, where existing assistive technologies often falter due to their lack of robustness? We hypothesize that by leveraging large pretrained foundation models and prompt engineering, we can create a system that effectively addresses the challenges faced by pBLV in unfamiliar environments. Motivated by the prevalence of large pretrained foundation models, particularly in assistive robotics applications, due to their accurate perception and robust contextual understanding in real-world scenarios induced by extensive pretraining, we present a pioneering approach that leverages foundation models to enhance visual perception for pBLV, offering detailed and comprehensive descriptions of the surrounding environment and providing warnings about potential risks. Specifically, our method begins by leveraging a large-image tagging model (i.e., Recognize Anything Model (RAM)) to identify all common objects present in the captured images. The recognition results and user query are then integrated into a prompt, tailored specifically for pBLV, using prompt engineering. By combining the prompt and input image, a vision-language foundation model (i.e., InstructBLIP) generates detailed and comprehensive descriptions of the environment and identifies potential risks in the environment by analyzing environmental objects and scenic landmarks, relevant to the prompt. We evaluate our approach through experiments conducted on both indoor and outdoor datasets. Our results demonstrate that our method can recognize objects accurately and provide insightful descriptions and analysis of the environment for pBLV.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number103
JournalJournal of Imaging
Issue number5
StatePublished - May 2024


  • assistive technology
  • multi-model foundation model
  • vision-language model

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Radiology Nuclear Medicine and imaging
  • Computer Vision and Pattern Recognition
  • Computer Graphics and Computer-Aided Design
  • Electrical and Electronic Engineering


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