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A wearable assistive device from the VTT Technical Research Centre of Finland (Espoo, Finland) enables users to sense their environment and move around more safely. The clinically tested device, worn like a heart-rate monitor, functions on the basis of a VTT radar system.

By relying on radio waves, the signal passes through normal clothing. The radar uses vibration and voice feedback to convey information to the user.

The technology senses most obstacles in the wearer's surroundings, although difficulties remain in sensing objects such as thin branches and bushes.

The radar has already been clinically tested in device trials approved by the National Supervisory Authority for Welfare and Health (Valvira). The test group included a total of 25 visually impaired people, of whom 14 were blind, 7 partially sighted, and 4 deaf-blind.

"A clear majority of the testers felt that the radar improved their ability to perceive their environment and increased their self-confidence when moving around," says Kiuru.

A total of 92% of the trial users felt that the device helped them to perceive their surroundings, 80% felt that their trust in their ability to move around independently had increased, and 32% would immediately start using the test device in its current form. Some participants, however, were not satisfied with distance control and vibration-based feedback.

The research will continue with selected test users, and the device will be further developed.

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