Spatial navigation with horizontally spatialized sounds in early and late blind individuals

Samuel Paré, Maxime Bleau, Ismaël Djerourou, Vincent Malotaux, Ron Kupers, Maurice Ptito, Thomas A. Stoffregen
2021 PLoS ONE  
Blind individuals often report difficulties to navigate and to detect objects placed outside their peri-personal space. Although classical sensory substitution devices could be helpful in this respect, these devices often give a complex signal which requires intensive training to analyze. New devices that provide a less complex output signal are therefore needed. Here, we evaluate a smartphone-based sensory substitution device that offers navigation guidance based on strictly spatial cues in
more » ... form of horizontally spatialized sounds. The system uses multiple sensors to either detect obstacles at a distance directly in front of the user or to create a 3D map of the environment (detection and avoidance mode, respectively), and informs the user with auditory feedback. We tested 12 early blind, 11 late blind and 24 blindfolded-sighted participants for their ability to detect obstacles and to navigate in an obstacle course. The three groups did not differ in the number of objects detected and avoided. However, early blind and late blind participants were faster than their sighted counterparts to navigate through the obstacle course. These results are consistent with previous research on sensory substitution showing that vision can be replaced by other senses to improve performance in a wide variety of tasks in blind individuals. This study offers new evidence that sensory substitution devices based on horizontally spatialized sounds can be used as a navigation tool with a minimal amount of training.
doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0247448 pmid:33635892 fatcat:2zstqgxoprfunaukbyjkavkn3y