SUNU BAND: Independent Mobility and Spatial Freedom for the Blind Community
Independent mobility and foot navigation is one of the fundamental challenges facing blind and visually impaired community. The most basic mobility aids used by individuals with blindness and visual impairments is the white cane. Navigating with a white cane has its inherent challenges like the inability to detect obstacles at-and-above knee level or distances beyond approximately 1 meter. Over the past decades, several approaches have been considered to improve the capabilities of white canes by incorporating sensor technologies to provide enhanced feedback (e.g. tactile) on the detection of obstacles. However, all these approaches involve enhancements to the cane itself resulting in subtle if not major modifications to the cane (e.g. weight, dimensions, cost, complex usability, etc.).
There are various new technologies for safe navigation and mobility independence designed for the blind community, and a new innovative technology called “Sunu Band” has recently emerged in the market. The Sunu Band is a wearable device that comprises of a wrist band (similar to a smartwatch) and a mobile application. The wearable uses sonar sensors to provide haptic feedback and guide the user around obstacles. This process of echolocation is the same method used by bats to navigate by transmitting sound waves and detecting the echoes to judge obstacle properties (e.g. distance, shapes, formation, etc.).
The Sunu Band emits vibration pulses upon detecting obstacles and the user is notified of obstacle distances by the strength of the vibrating pulses. The solution is designed to be used in conjunction with a guide dog, sighted guide, or cane. The device can detect objects up to 5.5 meters away. The accompanying Sunu mobile app allows configuring the device features such as customization of obstacle detection distance within indoor and outdoor environments.
The idea behind the Sunu Band is to provide a heightened sense of awareness of the surroundings to improve spatial perception and orientation ultimately resulting in improved mobility. The solution allows the user to perform practical daily tasks required for confident independent navigation. Such tasks include finding the gap in between two objects and detecting people standing in front while in a moving queue. The wearable can also detect moving objects, like pedestrians, as they move toward and away from the user. The use of Sunu Band can reduce the probability of accidents to the upper torso, chest, arms and head as it augments the user’s spatial awareness from knee height and above.
During its development, Sunu Band solution received the 2014 Gold Mass Challenge Perkins Award for Assistive Technology. The solution aims to empower mobility and independence for the visually impaired community by creating wearable technology that enables and augments the senses in a discreet and intuitive a way. The integration of the mobile app enhances the potential of the solution as it allows periodic updates and feature upgrades without having to replace the device frequently.