Over the years, new technology has given way to innovative ideas to help people who are blind gather extra information while traveling with their cane or guide dog. Below is a brief explanation of how some of these devices work.
Many available sonar devices use ultrasound waves to detect objects in the environment. The waves they emit bounce back from nearby objects. The sound frequency and volume changes depending on the distance from the object, its size and shape.
These devices may be hand-held, or they may be mounted into a cane or the person’s body.
An advantage of sonar devices is that, unlike a cane, these devices can detect obstacles that are above waste height such as tree branches or overhangs. On the other hand, a disadvantage is that users need to wear some type of headphones or earbuds that may interfere with other sounds in the environment.
An example of a sonar device is the K-Sonar.
Haptic feedback devices
Because of the significant drawback of using sound to interpret objects in the environment, many sonar devices use technology that translates ultrasound waves into vibration. The faster the device vibrates, the closer you are to an object. Some of these devices are hand-held, while others may be worn around the torso, the arm or wrist.
Global Positioning and Way Finding systems
The availability, portability and affordability of global positioning systems (GPS), has benefited most of us by providing efficient guidance to our destination. While people who are visually impaired benefit from this information, they may benefit even greatly from customized systems designed to provide extra orientation cues.
Customized systems assist the user to stay oriented by providing continuous distance and location information to a specific location.
As the person moves, these systems may indicate surrounding and approaching streets, information about the configuration of an intersection, information about nearby businesses and public facilities, and even location of bus shelters and bus schedules.
APH’s Nearby Explorer is an example of such GPS app.
Indoor way finding
Indoor navigation is a relatively new technology. Indoor way finding allows detailed navigation within buildings that have been mapped and equipped with beacons. These apps make use of beacons and indoor information stored in databases to provide location information.
An example of such app is APH’s Indoor Explorer. Indoor Explorer looks up the beacon’s latitude, longitude, and floor number. In addition, it looks up points of interest on that floor of the building and reports their name, distance, and position as you move. In addition, it lets you use the GeoBeam or Compass feature to point your device to locations inside the building.
If you are interested, you may experience firsthand how these apps work. The on-line version of Nearby and Indoor Explorer for IOS is free, and APH is one of the first buildings in Louisville that have already been mapped. Download the app into your phone and take it for a ride.