A trio from the University of Cincinnati has adapted infrared technology to provide blind individuals with a form of feedback that allows them to interpret their surroundings.
The handheld apparatus is equipped with distance sensors at one end and a vibrating motor that can be strapped to the user’s wrist. According to its creators, the Enactive Torch provides the wearer with one continuous channel of vibro-tactile feedback to the hand, where the strength of stimulation depends on the distance of the objects in front of the device. With an ultrasonic sensor and an on-board Arduino Pro Mini (ATmega168), the Torch provides constant responses to the user.
“Think of it as a cane on steroids,” writes TechCrunch’s John Biggs. While the cane has worked for quite some time, a smaller, more compact and high-tech Torch could help users navigate around with ease.
The trio of Makers is utilizing an open source platform so that the community at large may benefit from their sensory tool. The schematics and design plans are readily available on the device’s website.
Luis Favela, one of the principal creators of the Enactive Torch, notes that users have similar experiences when using a cane, natural vision or the Torch. “The three modalities are functionally equivalent. People can carry out actions just about to the same degree whether they’re using their vision or their sense of touch.”
According to TechCrunch, Favela tested 27 students by blindfolding them and putting them in an unknown environment. They were easily able to move through doors and avoid walls and were even able to use the device to sense objects near their feet. The resulting data was later presented at the APA convention in Washington, D.C. In the future, the creators hope to shrink the device to a less noticeable size, as to prevent and stigma from being attributed to the users.
To explore the Enactive Torch in more detail, you can check out the machine’s official site here.