The EyeCane is a virtual walking cane for the blind. The EyeCane is a virtual walking cane for the blind. The EyeCane is a virtual walking cane for the blind. (Photo: Amedi Lab)

New devices help the blind 'see' differently

The EyeCane and EyeMusic use sound to improve mobility and education.

A cane is an indispensible aid to those with poor balance and mobility, such as the blind. It allows the visually impaired to lead a more active and independent life, and now, thanks to a team of researchers, new advancements in the field are set to further improve quality of life for them.

The EyeCane is a small flashlight-like device which uses components that translate distance into sound and vibrations. The device translates the distance to a target into a corresponding frequency of auditory and tactile cues, enabling the user to "feel" the world around him or her within a range of 16 feet.

The EyeCane can augment a white cane with further distance and wider angles, protecting from high obstacles, and offers a non-obtrusive way to explore one's environment. After only five minutes of training, users can estimate distances, avoid obstacles and successfully navigate in simple environments.

The device was developed based on research from the lab of Professor Amir Amedi, from the Department of Medical Neurobiology at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, who said this and other technologies being developed will not only help the blind but the researchers studying sight impairment.

"These devices can help the blind in their everyday life," Dr. Amedi explained, "but they also open unique research opportunities by letting us see what happens in brain regions normally associated with one sense, when the relevant information comes from another.”

Another product developed by Amedi's lab is EyeMusic, which uses musical notes to convey information on any given scene, colors, shapes and location of objects.

Amir Amedi shows off the EyeMusic set.Amir Amedi shows off the EyeMusic set. (Photo: Eyal Toueg)

Users wear a miniature camera connected to a smartphone or small computer and stereo headphones. The images are converted into "soundscapes" using an algorithm, allowing the user to listen and then interpret the visual information coming from the image.

After training, blind individuals can recognize the letters of the alphabet, "see" pictures of animals, and even find an object or person in a complex visual landscape.

Those eager to use these devices can take heart in knowing they are more than mere curiosity. EyeMusic is already available free of charge on the Apple App Store and Google Play. There's also RenewSenses, a company spawned by Hebrew University's neurobiology department with the express purpose of bringing both to market, and both devices have been chosen for Israel Brain Technologies' prestigious Brainnovation lab.


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