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Electronic travel aids (ETAs) for the blind commonly employ conventional time-of-flight sonars to provide range measurements, but their wide beams prevent accurate determination of object bearing. We describe a binaural sonar that detects objects over a wider bearing interval compared with a single transducer and also determines if the object lies to the left or right of the sonar axis in a robust manner. The sonar employs a pair of Polaroid 6500 ranging modules connected to Polaroid 7000 transducers operating simultaneously in a binaural array configuration. The sonar determines which transducer detects the echo first. An outward vergence angle between the transducers improves the first-echo detection reliability by increasing the delay between the two detected echoes, a consequence of threshold detection. We exploit this left/right detection capability in an ETA that provides vibrotactile feedback. Pager motors mount on both sides of the sonar, possibly worn on the user's wrists. The motor on the same side as the reflecting object vibrates with speed inversely related to range. As the sonar or object moves, vibration patterns provide landmark, motion and texture cues. Orienting the sonar at 451 relative to the travel direction and passing a right-angle corner produces a characteristic vibrational pattern. When pointing the sonar at a moving object, such as a fluttering flag, the motors alternate in a manner to give the user a perception of the object motion. When the sonar translates or rotates to scan a foliage surface, the vibrational patterns are related to the surface scatterer distribution, allowing the user to identify the foliage.
Date of Publication: Oct. 2002