For pedestrians who are blind, the ability to detect potential obstacles while still several feet from them can enable corrections that make walking safer and less stressful.
Extending this spatial awareness beyond the tip of a traditional white cane can enlarge one's world and increase independence by making mobility easier.
The UltraCane is an electronic aid designed to deliver that awareness. The device uses sound waves to signal objects in one's immediate path and at head height as they walk. The carbon graphite collapsible cane, lightweight and ergonomic, runs on two rechargeable AA batteries.
The UltraCane mimics the innate echolocation capabilities of bats and dolphins. Bats can derive distance from how long it takes emitted pulses to echo back.
In a similar manner, the UltraCane sends out ultrasonic waves that bounce off objects in the user's path. Two buttons located in the cane's handle vibrate at various intensities to indicate an object's proximity and position, e.g. whether it's low or at head height.
Using the UltraCane
The UltraCane emits ultrasound waves in two ranges:
- Short range mode: for detecting obstacles within 2 meters of the handle -- ideal when walking in close areas, such as a city street
- Long range mode: for detecting obstacles within 4 meters of the handle -- ideal when walking in a park or open spaces.
Use a left-right sweeping motion so the UltraCane is always on the ground in front of you. This will enable the cane to detect drop-offs, such as stairs and curbs.
Objects on the ground in front of you will register will on the lower tactile button. As you move closer, the frequency of the vibration will increase.
You can then sweep the cane from side to side to determine the best way to move around the object.
The top tactile button vibrates when you approach objects between hip and head level. You can then physically locate the object with your hand.
The cane's upper transducer can locate objects within about 1.6 meters from the handle.
UltraCane or White Cane?
According to the manufacturer, 73 % of users felt comfortable using the UltraCane within one week. One reason for this is the device builds on one's existing cane skills.
The tactile feedback enables the UltraCane to provide more palpable information on potential dangers -- especially hazards at eye level -- than is possible when using a white cane that can only identify objects on contact.
The added safety of obstacle identification can give persons who are blind more confidence to negotiate unfamiliar routes and explore new places.
The UltraCane can also help users navigate the final steps between where their GPS device, e.g. HumanWare's Trekker Breeze, stopped talking and the door or room they need to reach that might be around a corner, down stairs, or across a courtyard.
You can choose from 10 different UltraCane lengths, from 41 inches (105 cm) to 59 inches (150 cm), and two tips (pencil- or large roller.
About the UltraCane
The UltraCane, which sells for £635 ($985), was developed in England and tested, beginning in 2002, by visually impaired people from Canada, England, Germany, and the United States. During its evolution, the UltraCane -- once dubbed the BatCane -- won the Tomorrow's World Health Innovation and European Electronics Design Application Awards.Since 2011, Sound Foresight Technology Ltd (Harrogate, UK) has overseen product development.