Soundscapes and Vibrations Help Blind People “See” the World

The World Health Organization estimates there are 285 million visually-impaired people around the world, 39 million of whom are blind. Researchers aim to assist these people in seeing the world through advances in technology and medical science.

Researchers recently developed a pair of glasses that utilizes cameras and a compact processing unit to create 3D images and feed information back to the user as intuitive soundscapes. “The cameras produce a three-dimensional picture of the surroundings in real time, and the system translates this into sound, something like the sound of the sea, which the user learns to interpret to navigate their environment, said Antonio Quesada, Chief Executive of Spain-based Eyesynth.

The headset constructs audio pictures of the user’s surroundings, increasing the independence of people who are blind or otherwise visually impaired. Through neural scanning, researchers discovered that the brain engages the visual cortex to build up an audio image, even when only abstract sounds are used.

Quesada described the benefits of the headset, which allows users to navigate around obstacles or identify and grasp nearby items. “By learning to understand the subtle variations in sounds, the user can identify straight lines or rounder shapes,” he said.

 

Furthermore, the audio signals are not transmitted through bones on the side of the head rather than through the outer ear. This allows the person to use the headset without limiting their ability to hear what is going on around them, which is also beneficial to the hearing impaired.

The gadget is first used in a familiar environment, where the user can normally navigate without issue, so that he or she can get used to the device and learn what triggers various soundscapes. Standing in front of the sea, for instance, would trigger the soothing sound of the ocean.

The device is being further developed to add new features, such as text reading, facial recognition, and colour identification. In Iceland, researchers have begun to use 3D cameras to create a picture for blind people. They have also created a belt that uses haptics to produce a form of visualization. According to Professor Runar Unnthorsson of the University of Iceland, the belt could make a simple shadow-like representation of the object being viewed.

“If there is a lamppost in front of you, for example, as you rotate, you would feel the centre column moving along the belt,” he said.

Professor Unnthorsson also described additional testing that was conducting to determine ways of converting visual information into useful audio via 3D cameras. A recent prototype was developed, emitting sounds that simulate a stream of bubbles in water. The larger an object is, the more bubbles are produced. The system also features a “danger mode” that warns of hazards such as stairs, missing utility covers, etc. “The system is highly customizable, so users can switch between different audio modes, or tactile modes and even change parameters, such as the number of objects represented.” The system currently requires a laptop (carried via backpack) for image processing, though plans for smaller systems are in the works.

 

Did you miss this?

Other Popular Stories

  • First new Canadian refinery in 30 years now on track for 2017
  • Are we ready to let go of the wheel? The current state of self-driving car technology.
  • Ozone-Destroying Emissions Rising Unexpectedly, Scientists Baffled
  • GM investing $250 million at Ingersoll plant
  • Two firsts for Ontario as energy storage systems certified
  • Wholesale trade saw healthy gains in 2014: Statistics Canada
  • Ford launches new Edge for global market from Oakville
  • Job losses in Alberta, gains in Ontario, leave employment flat in January
  • Unusual hydrogen car could soon be built in UK
  • Rapid growth of solar power a challenge for utilities
  • Ethical Concerns Rise Over the Future of Autonomous Vehicles
  • SpaceX Mars Exploration By 2019? Maybe not.
  • Federal money continues to flow to clean technology innovators
  • World's largest public transit system to be built in only 5 years — in Riyadh, capital of Saudi Arabia
  • Progress made on Detroit River cleanup: fish no longer smells
  • Bombardier, NetJets launch new Challenger 350
  • TransCanada's Energy East pipeline has building trades support
  • Canadian Mining Fueling the Alternative Power Boom
  • Large electric aircraft feasible with record-breaking Siemens motor
  • 2018 Oil Price Forecasts
Scroll to Top