Hungarian engineers have created Aurora, a prototype device to help blind people detect obstacles as they walk, via an ultrasonic distance sensor and vibration motor. Elly Park reports.
Budapest resident Noemi Kiraly has been gradually losing her sight since childhood. Today she is almost totally blind. But a group of Hungarian postgraduate students are hoping to lend her a helping hand with this device. It's called Aurora and aims to help Kiraly 'pulse' through everyday obstacles using an ultrasonic sensor, says co-developer Hunor Menyhart. (SOUNDBITE) (English) DEVELOPER, HUNOR MENYHART, SAYING: "The ultrasonic sensor emits an ultrasonic sound and it is reflected from the object before the device. The sound that comes back is detected by the device and the micro-processor translates this to vibration." The Aurora is meant to complement the conventional cane. It detects obstacles up to four metres away, five times the distance a cane can achieve. It can also locate holes in the ground and descending stairs, places of potentially grave danger for people such as Kiraly. (SOUNDBITE) (Hungarian) BLIND VOLUNTEER, NOEMI KIRALY, SAYING: "I'm just practicing with it for now but it does really help. If I hold it at the right angle it signals if there's an obstacle." Another tester, David Nemeth, says the device helps him define the edges of an obstacle. (SOUNDBITE) (Hungarian) BLIND TESTER, DAVID NEMETH, SAYING: "This is the point when it alerts me that an object is getting close as it vibrates faster and faster, and then I either find the edge of the obstacle with the white cane or I can use this device to find a point when it doesn't vibrate so much." The team developed the prototype after studying other supportive devices for the blind. They concluded a vibration system placed on the hand would be the most helpful. (SOUNDBITE) (English) DEVELOPER, HUNOR MENYHART, SAYING: "Many developers try to put such a device on the head of the user but those who are born blind do not develop the common head movement so they don't look where they are moving, this wouldn't work. And other devices use sound as feedback and this cancels one of the remaining senses of the blind people." Currently Aurora runs on conventional AA batteries, but needs some improvements in durability and water resistance. And with the help of crowd-funding websites, the team hopes it will soon assist the blind come rain or shine.