Drawing inspiration from bats to navigate with sound

New smart glasses help those with sight loss ‘see’ by assigning objects specific sounds

A small bat rests with wings outstretched on the bark of a tree during the daytime. In the background, dappled light can be seen on the leaves of the forest.
Pixabay/Cindy Parks

Researchers from the University of Technology Sydney have drawn inspiration from the way bats navigate the world to assist those with sight loss.

Describing their technology in PLOS One, the scientists share that the smart glasses help wearers identify objects by emitting specific sounds when an object enters the field of view.

In a study of 14 participants who either had impaired vision or were wearing a blindfold, the researchers found that the participants were able to use the smart glasses to recognise and reach for objects.

They also found that the device did not significantly increase the wearer’s cognitive workload.

“These promising results suggest that acoustic touch can provide a wearable and effective method of sensory augmentation,” the researchers highlighted.

Professor Chin-Teng Lin, of the University of Technology Sydney, highlighted that acoustic touch sonifies objects.

“For example, the sound of rustling leaves might signify a plant, or a buzzing sound might represent a mobile phone," he said.