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York company re-develop new walking cane for the blind

The UltraCane™ , a sophisticated mobility aid, designed to make it easier for blind and visually impaired people to walk around with confidence, launches in October 2011, during the UK’s Disability Awareness Month.

A team led by electronics engineer Dr Paul Clark, a director of Sound Foresight Technology Ltd, pooled their expertise to revive and improve a device, originally sold worldwide until 2008, when the previous owners of the company went into receivership.

Dr Paul Clark, Mr Alban Davies and Prof Brian Hoyle

The patented UltraCane™ works by warning users, of obstacles ahead of them, both in their path and at head height. The handle of the white cane is a handset fitted with transmitters and sensors. Buttons in the handle vibrate when the sensors detect that an object is near. The strength of the vibration indicates the proximity of the object, helping the user to walk around the obstacle easily and independently.

Whilst the earlier version of the UltraCane™ was well received by visually impaired users around the globe, the entrepreneurs saw that redeveloping the device to incorporate state of the art technology could refine the way the UltraCane™ detected obstacles and make the tactile feedback more precise.

Dr Clark’s company, Comms Design Ltd, undertook the redevelopment of the software and electronics and extensive trials with users across the country have followed.

Mr Alban Davies, a member of the new UltraCane™ team with extensive medical experience, said that he was delighted to be re-launching the new version as many people in the UK and overseas had indicated their interest in using the product, particularly to improve their independence and safety.

Dr Clark commented: “It is particularly gratifying to be able to be part of an all British invention with the potential to improve the lives of blind and visually impaired people around the world. UltraCane™ is an all round British success story – it has been developed, manufactured and brought to market in this country and we are very proud to be a part of it.”

The UltraCane™ was developed by mimicking the echo location of bats which use wide ranging ultrasound to build a ‘spatial map’ of their surroundings, allowing them to effectively, ‘see’ in the dark.

Professor Brian Hoyle from the University of Leeds, one of the original inventors of the UltraCane™, said that this is just one of the many products that scientists and engineers are developing which have been inspired by nature. He was especially pleased that visually impaired people would once again be able to benefit from ‘Biomimetics’, which is the transfer of materials and techniques developed in nature over millions of years to 21st century technology and engineering.

The UltraCane™ is currently being exhibited at Germany’s Natural History Museum in the “Patents of Nature” exhibition in Munster and will be on display there until June 2012.

The UltraCane™ will be available in the UK and Europe from October 2011. Exports to other countries will commence during the early part of 2012.

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