A new type of sensor could help the blind “see” objects in front of them. Called the Enactive Torch, the device sends out infrared signals which enable the user to sense nearby objects, thanks to a small buzzer attached to the wrist which alerts them if they’re about to crash into a door frame or wall. Think of it as a cane on steroids.
Created by Luis Favela, Tom Froese and Adam Spiers at the University of Cincinnati, the goal is to bring a little high tech to the experience of being blind. While the white cane has worked for centuries, a smaller, more compact Torch could help users traverse rough terrain or the local mall with ease. The device is fairly large right now, but the creator hopes to shrink it slightly after more experimentation. It has a range of between four inches and three feet.
“In my research I’ve found that there’s an emotional stigma that people who are visually impaired experience, particularly children,” Favela says. “When you’re a kid in elementary school, you want to blend in and be part of the group. It’s hard to do that when you’re carrying this big, white cane.”
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 presented at the APA convention in DC.
“When you compare the participants’ judgments with vision, cane and Enactive Torch, there was not a significant difference, meaning that they made the same judgments,” said Favela. “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. I was really surprised.”
Photo credit: Colleen Kelley, University of Cincinnati