Challenge: Vibrotactile Guidance Blind Skier
University Partner: University of Colorado, Boulder
Student Team: Enkhien Amarsanaa, Kirsty Hodgkins, Jarod Laroco, Matthew Lawson, and, Nicholas Maddalone
Faculty Advisor: Christoph Keplinger
QL+ Program Manager: Scott Huyvaert
According to the International Blind Sports Association, "Alpine (downhill) skiing is one of the rare opportunities available that allows the blind individual to move freely at speed through time and space. It provides the opportunity to embrace and commune with the primal force of gravity, thus experiencing the sheer exhilaration of controlled mass in motion, in a physically independent setting."
Blind skiers use a "safety skier guide." The guide is responsible for describing the surroundings, choosing the line of descent, and providing verbal instructions to the skier who is blind or has low vision. There are two primary ways to orient and guide skiers who are blind or have low vision: 1) The guide remains behind the skier, orienting the skier with verbal descriptions and instructions. This system requires wide slopes with few obstacles and, 2) The guide precedes the skier and provides orientation through verbal instructions as the skier follows the outline of the guide's body and movements. This system requires fewer precise instructions since the skier primarily follows the voice and movements of the guide. The downfall is that the skier and guide cannot communicate/have a conversation because the skier is concentrating on the voice commands.
There is a need for a non-verbal vibrotactile remote guidance system for skiers. The device must have a battery pack with enough current for the vibration/pulse to be felt in a vest under ski clothes. It must be durable and waterproof. It must work with the guide. It must not be voice-controlled. It must not have loose wires or parts that could snag. The controls must be compact. The controls for the guide must not impede their own ability to ski and maneuver.