London: The low-tech White Canes widely used by the visually impaired may soon become a thing of the past as researchers have now developed an electronic travel aid that enables the blind to hear and feel distance information from different directions.
The EyeCane, developed by a team of researchers at The Hebrew University of Jerusalem in Israel, translates point-distance information into auditory and tactile cues.
"The EyeCane was designed to augment, or possibly in the more distant future, replace the traditional White Cane by adding information at greater distances (five metres) and more angles, and most importantly by eliminating the need for contacts between the cane and the user's surroundings in cluttered or indoor environments," said Amir Amedi, associate professor of medical neurobiology.
The device provides the user with distance information simultaneously from two different directions: directly ahead for long distance perception and detection of waist-height obstacles and pointing downward at a 45 degree angle for ground-level assessment.
The user scans a target with the device, the device then emits a narrow beam with high spatial resolution toward the target, the beam hits the target and is returned to the device. Subsequently, the device calculates the distance and translates it for the user interface.
The user learns intuitively within a few minutes to decode the distance to the object via sound frequencies and/or vibration amplitudes.
Recent improvements have streamlined the device and it now barely weighs 100 grams.
"This enables it to be easily held and pointed at different targets, while increasing battery life," Amedi added.
A series of experiments conducted by the authors showed that the new device improved the navigational abilities of the blind and the blind-folded.
The study was published in the journal Restorative Neurology and Neuroscience.