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How New Sonar Tech Helps The Blind

Saturday, May 6th, 2017 by | Filed Under: Hardware & Peripherals

Bats, dolphins, some whales, and other animals use sonar and echolocation to understand where they are in the world. Inspired by these animals, humans have been using sonar to locate underwater objects for decades. There are two types of sonar: active and passive. Active sonar is when a signal is sent into the water and part of it is reflected back if it strikes a target, such as a submarine. The distance to the object is measured by how long it takes the sound to return. Passive sonar systems locate underwater objects by waiting for sounds to echo off of a hydrophone (an underwater microphone).

Even though sonar is not new in the world of technology, inventors and developers have been working to find new applications and advance the technology. Here are just a few of the latest innovations in sonar technology:


One great way sonar technology is being put into practice is through smart canes to help blind people detect obstacles in their path. White canes help them detect objects that come up to knee height, but they can’t let them know about any obstacles that may be above that height. A company called SmartCane is using sonic waves and vibratory patterns to help blind people avoid collisions and navigate the world without assistance. The company explains that the sonar-enabled cane helps users detect low-hanging tree branches, sides of trucks, protruding equipment on office walls (such as air conditioners) and other objects in narrow pathways.


For those who love fishing on the weekends, sonar technology is providing them with more information than ever before. Sonar can help them see what’s below their boat, create maps and have a more successful outing. For example, the Lowrance HDS-9 Gen2 Touch Sonar/GPS Combo with HDI Transducer system helps fishers draw up maps of structures beneath their boats and figure out where they are in relation to their boats. They also can determine bottom hardness and weed lines with the help of this technology. And just to make it a little more fun, the sonar device is compatible with 3G and 4G radar and Sirius satellite radio.



This has been one of the largest ways sonar technology has been used over the last several decades. Chief Sonar Technician Benjamin Lebron invented a better way for the navy to track and locate submarines. His program is called the Single Leg Bearing Range (SLBR), and it uses a passive sonar system to help them analyze results on a computer in seconds rather than minutes. Sailors can input additional bearing information into the program, and the program draws out lines of sound geometries, Lebron explains. This helps them solve problems and make decisions almost instantaneously rather than having to react 10 or 15 minutes after the fact. The device has already been used on expeditions in the South China Sea and during Talisman Sabre 15.

Just because sonar has been in use for a long time doesn’t mean it isn’t progressing. Inventors are finding new ways to use sonar technology in real life and advance the existing technology to keep up with the 21st century.

~ Jiro

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