Vision impaired navigate by sonar

SONAR is usually associated with dolphins and bats, but sound navigation and ranging technology has been harnessed by the vision impaired to help them get around.

In Casino yesterday as part of International White Cane Day activities, Patrick Reynolds, 87, was sporting a cane with inbuilt sonar, known as a K-sonar cane.

Mr Reynolds was taught to use the cane by Jessica Gillett of Guide Dogs Australia, who explained how the system works.

"There is a transmitter and a receiver at the front of the device," Ms Reynolds said.

"A sonic beam is sent out from the transmitter; it bounces off objects in the environment, comes back to the receiver and produces a sound scape of the environment."

She explained that glass makes a ringing noise, concrete sounds more dense and people sound "a little bit squishy".

The device enables Mr Reynolds to know what is ahead of him in the near distance, beyond the reach of his cane.

Mr Reynolds has been vision impaired for six years since macular degeneration robbed him of vision in his left eye and left only 20% vision in his right.

He said no longer being able to drive is the greatest loss he suffered as a result of his vision impairment, and that using his cane can present some challenges.

"The main thing is people kick my cane as I am walking along the footpath," he said.

Mr Reynolds has attached flashing green and red lights to his two canes to help overcome the problem.