Maria's picture
Helping The Blind See With Sound

The Challenge: 

The Question: 

Can we help the visually impaired navigate without using the sense of vision?

The Problem: 

Can other senses compensate for sight deficiency?

The Solution: 

An open source technology that enables the blind to compensate for vision loss by boosting nonvisual senses.

Channels: 

This is a story how a new initiative Soundsight Training promises help for blind and visually impaired gain more mobility and independence.

The website for Soundsight Training is http://www.soundsight.ch

 

Developing a technology that could sense and reconstruct reality for blind people can be one approach. But, a technology that enables blind and vision impaired to mediate their perception of their environment and interact with their surroundings is actually empowering then to be independent from aid devices.

Many blind and partially sighted people of all ages are unable to lead independent lives because they are not getting the support they need. The needs of people who lose their sight are many and varied and the support provided must be personalized if it is to meet individual needs. Teaching the blind to see with hearing using echolocation would be a way to make the largest impact, beyond the use of sight.  The benefits of acquiring this skill changes the way you interact with your surroundings on a daily basis. It decreases limitations and opens the door to new opportunities.

The Journey begins


Irene Lanza, Management Engineer, CEO of SoundSight Training, knows it’s possible. Irene came in contact with the Scimpulse Foundation while participating in the Challenge Based Innovation program of Ides2quare at CERN in Geneva. The challenge was to design something that enabled blind people to perceive the surrounding environment. It was then the idea was planted.  Many opted for a mobile device approach, something else called the attention of Irene. Teaching the blind to echolocate themselves?

Through this experience, Irene had the opportunity to interact with the visually impaired. Through working with mothers of blind children and getting to hear their stories, setbacks and concerns the more Irene wanted to do something to support and empower them. Guidance of blind and visually impaired people is a clear unmet need. However, most blind and visually impaired people want to go out and enjoy independent mobility.

The environment in which we live is becoming increasingly complex. Even a journey across a city  requires a range of skills including being able to avoid obstacles on the pavement, to walk in the right direction, play a sport and the list goes on. These tasks may seem trivial, but for someone with a vision impairment, this is a challenge and a skill that needs to be learned. SoundSight enables the development of a hearing talent that compensates for the missing eyesight.

See With Sound

 
SoundSight Training was developed to enable the blind to see with sound. Together, with Henrik Kjeldsen and Dr. Marco Manca the first prototype of an echolocation training system, was created. 

It’s a virtual reality environment based on audio. The training is completed with practice in the real world until the student becomes fully independent from the simulation. Further explanation of how can be found here. SoundSight attracted the attention of the Italian government and a number of organisations and advocates that offered its support.  Among them were, Cecilia Camellini, Champion Paralympic Swimmer. When asked what she thought of SoundSight, “with training and effort athletes can improve performance.”  

Experience the world more independently

SoundSight Training is a spinoff of the Let Me See Project, the first from the ScimPulse Foundation  I.M.mortal research program. It was a 3 year journey that started from a workshop and now partners with governmental organizations to impulse the idea forward beyond the prototype stage. Now it has its own heartbeat. SoundSight Training designed to helping people explore the world more independently.

“This software has the potential to enrich the lives of people who are blind and visually impaired. Everyone can learn this skill, it’s accessible to everyone and when we design for greater accessibility, everyone benefits.” says Irene Lanza.   

Improving performance, challenging yourself, to overcome limitations, all of this effects humanity’s growth, expansion and well-being. The challenges for the visually impaired are enormous, so immense are the ramifications for those now living without sight, and so exciting is the initiative on the horizon.

For more information about SoundSight initiative, please visit www.soundsight.ch

Comments

About the article and the idea...

Andra Pop's picture

The article contains a few phrases I really liked and I would like to express my delight about them. I think of the “Can other senses compensate for sight deficiency?” problem which is asked at the beginning. Also, I think of the “a technology that enables blind and vision impaired to mediate their perception of their environment and interact with their surroundings” thing. This is such a nice, simple and healthy way of talking about the project and building it. I checked the website too and I liked the fact that it says a lot about the project and what's coming next. I would really like this to extend and I hope to hear more about this in the near future. Thanks for sharing! 

I remember the kickstarter campaign

Noemi's picture

@Irene Lanza introduced us to the project a while ago, and I found it very interesting that while it usually takes a lot of "manual" training to learn echo-location - basically to hear acutely the echo of the tongue click, this kind of tech mediated approach can speed up learning.

Have you guys managed to move beyond prototyping? Are results coming along nicely..?

Comparison with other tecnologies

Rune's picture

Lovely idea Maria, if someone was about to give some guidace to one who was about to become blind. How would this project put itself among many other possible technologies: Second sight artifical eye implant, a system telling what you see in front (cant remember the link) etc?

Is there an objectiv comparitive review somewhere?

follow-up

Maria's picture

Thank you for the comments regarding SoundSight. @andra Pop The project is moving along at its pace, as much time is dedicated to working with the blind community, as they are part of the co-creation team. There is indeed an initial prototype that has been tested.

Yes, there is a lot of work and research being done to find ways to improve life for partially-sighted and blind people. This software transforms lives for the better and will be available for everyone.  It’s a great step in improving the human race's understanding of its own vast and incomprehensible capabilities. There will a follow-up and we will share on the developments.

 

 

 

Co-creation

Noemi's picture

Will be looking forward to updates @Maria. I would especially be interested to read about the process of getting communities involved and what their contribution was.

Is there a business model behind, how will production costs be covered so that more people can acquire Soundsight  (or buy?)?

Co-creation

Maria's picture

@Noemi absolutely will share the developments about how the various communities contributed. With the intent on making it available to everyone on the global scale, we will answer production costs, and acquisition related questions at a later date.

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