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Bike for blind people goes on display at Glasgow conference

Ultrasound sensors detect obstacles giving the visually impaired a chance to ride independently

A bicycle for blind people that uses ultrasonic sensors to guide its rider along has been unveiled at a technology conference in Glasgow.

The Ultrabike has tactile buttons on each handlebar, which vibrate to let the rider know they are approaching a special barrier at the side of the specially-constructed track. This makes it possible to correct course and avoid a collision.

Created by Harrogate-based Sound Foresight Technology, the bike has been praised by users for allowing visually impaired to have a proper experience of riding a bike, rather than being limited to a stationary bike or stoking a tandem.

For some riders, it will be their first ever experience of riding a bike independently.

Paralympian footballer Michael Smith, who lost his sight three years ago, said:“I was surprised at how quickly I felt confident. Once you put your trust in the technology it becomes very intuitive and you effectively become part of the bike. It completely fills the void. It was brilliant.”

The UltraBike was commissioned by the BBC for Richard Hammond to ride during filming of the Miracles of Nature television series. It uses similar technology to the UltraCane, a white stick that uses sensors to give blind people a fuller picture of the surrounding area while they are walking.

It was shown at the Technology for Life event at the Glasgow Science Centre, where delegates were able to try the bike out.

RNIB Scotland director John Legg told the BBC: "We want designers to keep thinking about how to realise new technology's potential to help blind and partially sighted people be part of an inclusive society.

"Sight loss will be a more common feature of society because of our ageing population. But many older people are less confident and aware of new applications while some access software can cost significantly more than a computer itself.

"The challenge now is to ensure that, as technology evolves exponentially, blind and partially sighted people don't get left behind."

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