Navigation using sensory substitution in real and virtual mazes

Daniel Robert Chebat, Shachar Maidenbaum, Amir Amedi

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

71 Scopus citations

Abstract

Under certain specific conditions people who are blind have a perception of space that is equivalent to that of sighted individuals. However, in most cases their spatial perception is impaired. Is this simply due to their current lack of access to visual information or does the lack of visual information throughout development prevent the proper integration of the neural systems underlying spatial cognition? Sensory Substitution devices (SSDs) can transfer visual information via other senses and provide a unique tool to examine this question. We hypothesize that the use of our SSD (The EyeCane: a device that translates distance information into sounds and vibrations) can enable blind people to attain a similar performance level as the sighted in a spatial navigation task. We gave fifty-six participants training with the EyeCane. They navigated in real life-size mazes using the EyeCane SSD and in virtual renditions of the same mazes using a virtual-EyeCane. The participants were divided into four groups according to visual experience: congenitally blind, low vision & late blind, blind-folded sighted and sighted visual controls. We found that with the EyeCane participants made fewer errors in the maze, had fewer collisions, and completed the maze in less time on the last session compared to the first. By the third session, participants improved to the point where individual trials were no longer significantly different from the initial performance of the sighted visual group in terms of errors, time and collision.

Original languageEnglish
Article numbere0126307
JournalPLoS ONE
Volume10
Issue number6
DOIs
StatePublished - 3 Jun 2015

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