Batcane is ready for user trials

A company in the UK is set to start trials on the Batcane, a new handheld guide for the blind that works by mimicking a bat’s ability to manoeuvre using echolocation.

Sound Alert Technology plc has announced that the ‘Batcane’, a product developed by Sound Alert’s subsidiary Sound Foresight Limited in conjunction with Cambridge Consultants Limited (CCL), is ready for user trials.

The Batcane is designed to help blind and partially sighted people build a ‘mind map’ of their environment and so aid independent mobility. It looks like a conventional white cane, but is reportedly much safer as it enables the user to detect obstacles in front of and around and, crucially, above or at the user’s head height.

The concept behind its development is based on the way a bat ‘sees’. Through a process known as echolocation, the cane emits ultrasound pulses and then ‘listens’ to the echo to determine the location of objects in the immediate vicinity.

The Batcane is said to require no programming and runs on only a set of AA batteries.

In its application as a guide for the blind, paired ultrasonic transducers along the length of the cane send out and receive pulses of ultrasound.

Echoes from objects within 2-3 metres are encoded, and the position relayed to the user via a tactile relay unit that vibrates with a frequency and amplitude that is proportional to the distance of the object.

The vibrations are reportedly transmitted to the fingers of the user creating a ‘tactile map’ of the environment. It is estimated that one million people in the UK country are registered blind or partially sighted, which translates to over 25 million potential users worldwide.

Following successful industrial design and development work with Cambridge Consultants, Sound Foresight – the company’s subsidiary, is starting trials using fully functional prototypes with many agencies around the world.

Results of the tests are expected by the end of April 2002. It is anticipated that following successful completion of these trails, the product could be available as soon as third quarter 2002.