Echolocation isn't just for bats anymore. For the blind, it can mean a whole new way of navigating the world -- and even "seeing" it, in a way. A group of researchers and students at Wake Forest University want to bring that ability to everyone with limited eyesight by means of a cheap, easy-to-use echolocation wristband.
The band works by firing off sound waves and then reading the way they bounce back with a host of sensors. The wristband then produces vibrations that tell the wearer how close they are to obstacles. The device, called H.E.L.P. (Human Echo-Location Partner), can tell the user whether a door is open or closed, whether stairs go up or down, and other useful tidbits about the world around them.
Student and beta tester Kathryn Webster isn't giving up her guide dog in favor of the band, but told the AP that it made for a surprisingly useful supplementary tool.
Echolocation for the blind isn't a new idea: Some people like Daniel Kish are known for using this extra sense without any gizmos. Kish clicks his tongue and instantly interprets the resulting sound waves himself -- a trick he's taught many others to do in order to "see" the world around them -- but he's been doing so instinctively since he was a toddler. Kish, who lost both his eyes to cancer as a child, has such a clear mental picture of the objects surrounding him that he can ride a bike without aid. But it's a trick that gets harder to learn successfully the older one gets. H.E.L.P. might attract users who are too timid to rely on their own clicks.
Vibrating navigation isn't just for the blind, either. There's a jacket in development with sensors built into its sleeves, designed to light up and buzz to direct wearers around a foreign city without looking at their phone or a map. There's no need to settle for relying on your eyes alone.