The Echo is a pair of headphones and wand for the blind to help them navigate. It uses 8 audio drivers with ultra surround sound to create a more accurate soundscape than regular headphones. The wand has an emitter and the headphones have a receiver that creates a sense of artificial echolocation. When an object is closer, a higher pitched sound is emitted from that direction in the headphones allowing the user to navigate a space with sound alone.
The Echo project started as a one week CAD project for my advanced product modeling class. I saw this coming up in the syllabus a few weeks away and used it as an opportunity to work on an Idea that I had. Designing for ability is my passion so the idea was started when I talked to a family friend who was blind and working as a liaison for architecture studios to design for the blind. As much as actions like these are helpful and move towards a more inclusive and better designed society, the reality is the vast majority is not made for the visually impaired.
This started the research phase of the project that dove into all the ways areas are designed for the visually impaired and the tools they use to navigate and operate in the world. Public spaces take into account the visually impaired a bit, but there is much less thought put in for private spaces. Outdoor and very open spaces seem to be most difficult as there is little frame of reference. This moved the project into a direction of creating a product to use in less enclosed and dynamic spaces. In ideation tactile solutions had the problem of needing something that reaches out and physically interacts with your environment, limiting range. Ideation then moved to sonic solutions and that is where using the headphones project came in. Using the Dolby Atmos super surround sound for headphones to create a soundscape for the user is where ideation landed. From there it was just designing how that soundscape worked and the function of the headphones.
The headphones were eventually designed to include eight audio drivers rather than the usual four to make the directional sounds more accurate once the idea of using the soundscape was finalized. The rest of the design is minimalist to keep the weight down as to reduce strain when wearing them for the whole day. The exterior aesthetic design is made to show off the eight drivers and the braille while maintaining the look of regular headphones. The wand was added to help the user feel more oriented and secure. I found most previous solutions included something to hold that helped navigate and having the sensation of holding something to guide you helps psychologically. The finish and color were chosen to mimic popular headphones while still showing off the unique form. The next step is to pair with others to help design the program needed and engineer the interiors for functioning prototypes.