June 10, 2014 AT 5:00 pm

Bat Cane Helps The Blind See #Biomimicry

Preview of Bat Cane Helps The Blind See Biomimicry

Ultracane mimics bat sonar to help the blind see. via MentalFloss and Ultracane

It sounds like the beginning of a bad joke: A brain expert, a bat biologist, and an engineer walk into a cafeteria. But that’s exactly what happened when a casual meeting of the minds at England’s Leeds University led to the invention of the Ultracane, a walking stick for the blind that vibrates as it approaches objects.

The cane works using echolocation, the same sensory system that bats use to map out their environments. It lets off 60,000 ultrasonic pulses per second and then listens for them to bounce back. When some return faster than others, that indicates a nearby object, which causes the cane’s handle to vibrate. Using this technique, the cane not only “sees” objects on the ground, such as trash cans and fire hydrants, but also senses things above, such as low-hanging signs and tree branches. And because the cane’s output and feedback are silent, people using it can still hear everything going on around them. Although the Ultracane hasn’t experienced ultra-stellar sales, several companies in the United States and New Zealand are currently trying to figure out how to market similar gadgets using the same bat-inspired technology.

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  1. This is a great idea. Save a few issues. What about when it rains? Laser canes have been tried since the early 80’s and heavy rain seems to disrupt the signal quite a bit. It is interesting though.

  2. I have an ultracane and have done for nearly two years. I bought it after having a try with one at an exhibition. I dont know how I managed without it. It took a bit of a while to stop using it like an ordinary white cane, but I think I am a bit of an expert with it now. Its been a life saver for me and I am really thankful for having it. I will never go back to using a long cane anymore and it does work in the rain and snow and hail!

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