Authors: Oana Bălan, Alexandru Butean, Alin Moldoveanu, Florica Moldoveanu
in: 22nd International Congress on Sound and Vibration, Florence, 2015
Abstract: Navigating in an unknown environment is a difficult task for the visually impaired people, as they are required to rely primarily on the haptic or auditory cues, in compensation for the lack of sight. However, their orientation and mobility skills are well developed, although the process of building a solid spatial cognitive map of the environment can be rather long and sinuous. The main inquiry that emerges from this matter is whether they are able to virtually learn the architecture of an environment by adapting to the specific auditory and haptic cues that define the setting and to transfer their knowledge into real-world, physical contexts. As the spatial audio technology is capable to render individual sounds at desired locations and to design complex auditory scenarios though binaural sound synthesis, the purpose of virtual auditory environments has extended from localization tests to investigating higher-level cognitive abilities. This paper aims to investigate and discuss the most relevant studies and experiments concerning the ability of visually impaired people to adapt to novel environments, to successfully navigate them virtually by using auditory or haptic cues and to construct a mental representation of the surrounding space. The motivation underlying our research is twofold: firstly, it is aimed to contribute to documenting the way in which the visually impaired people spatially perceive the environment and secondly, to provide insights for the development of a virtual reality navigational device based on auditory or haptic (vibrotactile and kinesthetic) events. Taking into account the findings of our research on the ability of blind individuals to carry out effective cognitive tasks and spatial mental representations, we will also discuss future perspectives for the development of an assistive VR system that would facilitate navigation, orientation and overall spatial awareness.