Degree Show 2018

Christopher Bransbury

  • 17 MBDA - Human Factors Undergraduate
  • 17 Diploma in Professional Studies

Final Year Project

An evaluation of the use of sound as a means of directional target recognition for visually impaired runners

There is a significant lack of technology available to assist visually impaired individuals participate in sport without the need for a sighted guide. Can sound be used as an accurate and reliable method for direction finding by visually impaired runners and what effect does the speed of travel have on the ability to accurately locate sound?

Navigation for the visually impaired (VI) is a particularly troublesome task. Severely VI individuals rely mainly on hearing to perceive their environment and gain cues to assist with certain tasks. An everyday auditory task, such as crossing the road, requires a skilled VI pedestrian to use their hearing to detect approaching vehicles, gaps in traffic and gain a spatial impression of the highway layout. The difficulty faced by a visually impaired individual becomes much more complex when attempting to take part in physical exercise involving a fast pace over potentially unfamiliar terrain. Rather surprisingly, there has been a lack of technology successfully developed to assist visually impaired individuals participate in sport. For example, a blind runner requires a sighted guide to be physically linked to them by a non-stretchable tether using voice command assistance provided by the guide.


The aim of this research project was to determine if sound can be used as an accurate and reliable method for direction finding by VI runners and what effect the speed of travel may have on accuracy. In addition, the project would determine whether sound could reliably be used as an accurate guidance tool for VI runners in an environment, such as a 400m running track, where sound is transmitted at different intervals for individuals to follow.


The study employed 20 participants in three experimental conditions; static, walking and running. Sounds were played at various positions on a 2.5 metre, 180° arc and the blindfolded participant tasked with accurately locating the apparent source of sound. The perceived sound location was then compared with the actual sound location.


Overall, it was concluded that sound can be used to accurately and reliably direct VI individuals. Crucially, all of the conditions experienced a central dominance, indicating that participants were more accurate in locating sound in the direction they were facing compared to the wider stimulus locations. Further exploration could be carried out in VI direction finding on a 400m track using a greyhound racing scenario, with the speaker placed where the rabbit is normally positioned, thereby ensuring that the sound does not provide a wide stimulus and therefore improving location finding accuracy.