Navigating without vision: basic and applied research.

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Abstract or Description

We describe some of the results of our program of basic and applied research on navigating without vision. One basic research topic that we have studied extensively is path integration, a form of navigation in which perceived self-motion is integrated over time to obtain an estimate of current position and orientation. In experiments on pathway completion, one test of path integration ability, we have found that subjects who are passively guided over the outbound path without vision exhibit significant errors when attempting to return to the origin but are nevertheless sensitive to turns and segment lengths in the stimulus path. We have also found no major differences in path integration ability among blind and sighted populations. A model we have developed that attributes errors in path integration to errors in encoding the stimulus path is a good beginning toward understanding path integration performance. In other research on path integration, in which optic flow information was manipulated in addition to the proprioceptive and vestibular information of nonvisual locomotion, we have found that optic flow is a weak input to the path integration process. In other basic research, our studies of auditory distance perception in outdoor environments show systematic underestimation of sound source distance. Our applied research has been concerned with developing and evaluating a navigation system for the visually impaired that uses three recent technologies: the Global Positioning System, Geographic Information Systems, and virtual acoustics. Our work shows that there is considerable promise of these three technologies in allowing visually impaired individuals to navigate and learn about unfamiliar environments without the assistance of human guides.


Published In

Optometry and vision science : official publication of the American Academy of Optometry, 78, 5, 282-289.