Nineteen million Americans have significant vision loss. Over 70% of these are not employed full-time, and more than a quarter live below the poverty line. Globally, there are 36 million blind people, but less than half use white canes or more costly commercial sensory substitutions. The quality of life for visually impaired people is hampered by the resultant lack of independence. To help alleviate these challenges this study reports on the development of a low-cost, open-source ultrasound-based navigational support system in the form of a wearable bracelet to allow people with the lost vision to navigate, orient themselves in their surroundings and avoid obstacles when moving. The system can be largely made with digitally distributed manufacturing using low-cost 3-D printing/milling. It conveys point-distance information by utilizing the natural active sensing approach and modulates measurements into haptic feedback with various vibration patterns within the four-meter range. It does not require complex calibrations and training, consists of the small number of available and inexpensive components, and can be used as an independent addition to traditional tools. Sighted blindfolded participants successfully demonstrated the device for nine primary everyday navigation and guidance tasks including indoor and outdoor navigation and avoiding collisions with other pedestrians.
Keywords: 3-D printing; additive manufacturing; assistive devices; blind; obstacle avoidance; sensors; sensory substitution; ultrasonic sensing; ultrasound sensing; visually impaired.