Preview Mode Links will not work in preview mode

On Tech & Vision With Dr. Cal Roberts

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 auditory environments.
  • 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 obstacles.
  • 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 Kalcounis-Rueppell

“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:

Contact us at with your innovative new technology ideas for people with vision loss.


Pertinent Links: