Monday, August 13, 2007

Technology based on bats could help the visually impaired!

Bats' super hearing powers could also help sight-impaired people to see the world through their ears.The mysterious nocturnal creatures locate objects using ultrasonic waves – but ultrasound is too high pitched for us to hear.Now researchers have translated ultrasonic data in the virtual world into frequencies people can hear.

Virtual ultrasound that bounces off the surfaces of 3D virtual models is converted into audible clicks heard by a visually impaired user through headphones - so they can navigate the real environment.Bats use the time delay and volume of echoes - called echolocation - to determine how far they are from the objects that reflected them.

Ultrasonic waves diffract - or spread around obstacles - much less than audible frequencies allowing the bat to perceive the objects around it clearly.Dr Dean Waters, of Leeds University, has developed a sensor for a visually impaired user to wear that tracks their position and motion as they explore the real-world environment.Research has shown that data from the sensor directs a virtual representative - or avatar - in the virtual environment to reproduce the user's movements, reports New Scientist.The avatar emits virtual ultrasound that bounces off the virtual surfaces of the environment to produce virtual echoes which are then converted into audible clicks that the real-world user hears in headphones.

The stream of clicks changes as the user approaches an obstacle so the system will enable them, with practice, to navigate the environment.But Dr Mikael Fernstrom, an aural display specialist at the University of Limerick in Ireland, doubts the idea which is due to be published in the International Journal of Human-Computer Studies will prove popular.He said: "The last thing visually disabled people want to do is put ear-plugs in their ears. They want to experience the world immediately, as it is."


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