Oct 29, 2021
This podcast is about big ideas on how technology is
making life better for people with vision loss.
Today’s big idea is Sonar and a somewhat similar
technology called LiDAR! Can we use the latest sonar technology for
obstacle detection the way bats and other nocturnal creatures do?
There have been many exciting advances happening in sonar sensors
that now make this possible for people who are blind. However,
unlike bats, we won’t need to receive feedback signals through our
ears. Advances in haptic technologies and languages make
communication through touch possible. Dr. Cal Roberts talks with
Dr. Matina Kalcounis-Rueppell from the College of Natural and
Applied Science at the University of Alberta, Ben Eynon, and Diego
Roel from Strap Technologies, Marco Trujillo of Sunu, and Sam
Seavey of The Blind Life YouTube Channel to find out more.
The Big Takeaways:
- How does a bat see what it sees?
Dr. Kalcounis-Rueppell studies bats and how they use sound to
thrive in their nighttime world. Bats use a series of echoes to see
a 3D view of their environment, but their world isn’t always so
simple. There’s rain, there are leaves, and other creatures flying
that bats need to detect with their sonar. Similarly, people with
vision impairment have to use their hearing to navigate complex
- Strap Technologies uses Sonar and
LiDAR sensors that can be strapped across the chest, which helps
people who are blind detect obstacles. These kinds of sensors have
been used to park spacecraft, but with recent developments, they’re
finally small enough that a human can wear them in a compact way.
Ben and Diego share how it works.
- Unlike Sonor, LiDAR technology
uses pulsed laser light instead of sound waves.
- Though bats have been honing their
echolocation skills for millennia, interpreting information
haptically, rather than sonically, is an adaptation that humans,
using technologies like Strap, can make. Haptic information can
help us navigate without sight through the use of vibrations, which
is great news because it means we can leave our ears open to
process our active world. More specifically, Ben and Diego suggest
that people may no longer need to use a cane to detect
- Ben and Diego are excited about
the future. With their technology, they hope to create
quick-reacting haptic technology so people who are blind can one
day ride a bike or run a race. Infrared or radiation sensors could
be added in the future to detect other hazards in the environment.
The more user feedback they receive, the easier it will be to add
on these product enhancements.
- Another way we can approximate
sight is through echolocation. However, how easy is it for us to
hear echoes, really? For Marco at Sunu, it’s actually a natural
skill we can learn to develop. Similar to Strap Technologies, the
process of learning echolocation could be improved if you're
wearing a Sunu Band.
- Sam Seavey was diagnosed at age 11
with Stargardt’s Disease. He decided to use his voice and video
skills to create a YouTube review channel for those who need to use
assistive tech. The positive feedback from the community keeps him
going. Sam has personally reviewed the Sunu Band, and you can check
out the link to his review in the show notes!
“They parked spacecraft with these same sensors, and
recent developments have really pushed the miniaturization of the
components, such that a human being can now wear them in a very
compact form factor.” — Ben Eynon
“He said, ‘I’m walking faster than I have in a long,
long time,’ because he started to trust that the haptic vibrations
were telling him every obstacle in the way.” — Ben Eynon shares the
reaction from a user who is visually impaired testing Strap
“We're changing our environment around us in ways
that also change the acoustic environment.” — Dr. Matina
“How is it that we have self-driving cars, we have
rockets that land themselves like, we have a better iPhone every
year, but we don’t have something better than a stick? How can this
happen? We still have people moving around and having issues every
day.” — Marco Trujillo
Contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org with your innovative
new technology ideas for people with vision loss.