Blind people often find different ways of exploring their surroundings, and some use echolocation, which involves bouncing sound waves off objects nearby to determine where they're located.
The ability to do this naturally, however, is quite rare. A new device, called Ausion, which has been developed by Innovation Hub Technologies, could help make it easy for blind people to echolocate.
The device is small and lightweight, coming in at only 95 grams, or 0.2 pounds. It looks somewhat like a bulky mobile phone, and makes use of earbuds to alert the user where different objects are located.
The device, when activated, can alert the user of the distance to objects nearby, and uses different musical notes to indicate how far away objects are. The different notes include sa-re-ga-ma-pa, or the notes from the Indian version of solfège, a system for singing notes (the Western version of solfège is do-re-mi-fa-so-la-ti - think The Sound of Music).
"The messages are coded as musical notes and the blind person only needs to get trained on how the device works," said Vinod Deshmukh, one of the creators of the device, in an interview with the Bangalore Mirror. "We wanted it to be simple and easy to use."
Deshmukh leveraged his career experience as an R&D engineer at Wipro, along with his work at the company's design center in Silicon Valley, and his work at Mindtree, an IT consulting firm. Co-founder SN Padmanabhan also worked at Wipro and Mindtree.
The device has two sensors at the front, and is used similar to how someone uses a flashlight - the peron using it simply points it in the direction they want to walk. It has a total of four switches on the side, with two being for volume control, one being for auxiliary power, and the last being to switch the device on or off. The on/off switch can also be used to set the range, with the maximum range being 10 meters, or 33 feet.
Because tonal differences reflect how far an object is, they can also reflect if there is a pothole nearby, for example.
The team behind the device worked closely with teachers and students at schools for the blind, working for over a year to create a prototype that could be tested in real life. Now that it is being put to work in the real world, the team has received positive feedback from almost 30 people who have been testing the device. The team will continue to get feedback from participants in the future.
The device has also now entered production, with IHT having commissioned 500 units. It will cost 3,500 rupees, or around $55, and will be first distributed through different social organizations and schools in Bangalore. The company plans a wider release in August.
Photo: Timothy Krause | Flickr