Invention steers new path for blind cyclists

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A DEVICE designed in Yorkshire which mimics the senses of a bat to help people with visual impairments ride a bike is part of a new cutting edge exhibition at London’s Science Museum.

It works by giving the rider constant “directional feedback” about obstacles ahead and at each side of them, through vibrating buttons positioned underneath each thumb.

The UltraBike unit, designed and developed in Harrogate, is detachable and can be fitted on to the handlebars of any bike.

It was designed by electronics engineer Dr Paul Clark and is on display in the museum’s Antenna gallery as part of an exhibition highlighting innovative engineering that transforms lives.

The exhibition features an interview with Dr Clark in which he explains how he turned the idea into reality.

It is not intended to be used to allow people to cycle on the road but is thought to have massive potential for use in sport and does allow people with visual impairment to ride independently.

The developers of the UltraBike used the same obstacle detection capability used in the award-winning UltraCane, an electronic mobility aid. The UltraCane is used by people with sight loss all over the world to avoid hazards and injury that can result when using a standard long cane to walk around.

The UltraCane, which was designed to mimic the “echolocation” abilities of bats, featured on a BBC documentary. The programme makers approached Dr Clark’s company Comms Design, to adapt the technology for use on a bicycle that could be tested by a blind rider.

Dan Smith, who had been a keen solo cyclist before losing his sight, was shown on the programme steering a straight course through a heavily wooded cycle path on the first UltraBike. Dr Clark said: “The UltraBike is not suitable for visually impaired road cyclists because road drivers assume a cyclist can see, so this is clearly too hazardous. It is designed for use in a supervised and controlled environment and has great potential for use in sport and velodrome settings in particular.

“We are now looking at specific enhancements to the technology for this purpose.”

Sound Foresight Technology, which is also based in Harrogate, is now working with sports organisations around the country to run UltraBike events.