This is how the LiDAR sensor in the iPhone 12 Pro helps the visually impaired

The iPhone 12 Pro is the first iPhone to include a LiDAR sensor which uses lasers to judge distances and depth. And while this feature is great for photographers for quicker auto focus and to enable better AR experiences, the feature can be a life-saving accessibility tool for the visually impaired.

According to reporter Lucy Edwards in BBC Click, the new LiDAR sensor feature can help visually impaired users like her detect people around them. It is also “especially useful” during the COVID-19 pandemic when people are meant to be socially distancing.

“The world outside is inaccessible at the moment for me. I don’t know if people are going to cough in my face, or where they are in approximate to me,” said Edwards.

The BBC Click video coincided with the International Day of Persons With Disabilities. You can watch Edward’s story at minute 2:30.

Her story showcases the impact that LiDAR in the iPhone 12 Pro has for a blind person. Using the phone, she was able to easily navigate their neighbourhood, and identify things around her as she walks.

The sensor can identify pretty specific things, too. Like “a white building with a red and white sign on it”, and “a person wearing a helmet riding a motorcycle”. What surprised Edwards was that the sensor can also give her proximity alerts.

The sensor isn’t perfect, however. The LiDAR sensor detected her friend—an adult male—as a child. But Edwards says that the feature is still very useful, albeit a bit scary, as knowing that people are around her “freaks” her out.

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Still, it’s an exciting accessibility feature that helps the visually impaired navigate the outside world—especially as places start to open up. There will also be a potential feature that’s still developing by Microsoft in the near future to potentially recognise personalised items like “mom’s glasses” or “your own mug”. You can watch a bit more about it in the video here.

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Dzamira Dzafri