Samsung's Ultrasonic Cover allows the blind to 'see' with their smartphones

Slip-on case bounces soundwaves off surroundings and vibrates to alert the user
  • @jjvincent

It may seem counterintuitive but the smartphone revolution has proved to be a boon for the visually impaired.

Although these gadgets don’t offer physical buttons or distinctive textures, the use of assistive software that gives audio and vibration feedback (as well as various sensors) has transformed smartphones into smart seeing eyes.

A bog-standard GPS-enabled travel app can help someone navigate public transport when equipped with voice controls, while an app that uses the smartphone camera to recognise different denominations can help individuals sort money at the tills.

Now, a trio of new accessories from Samsung is promising to help smartphones provide even more assistance to disabled and visually impaired users.

An Ultrasonic Cover will help users navigate cluttered streets; an Optical Scan Stand reads text placed in front of it aloud, and a Voice Label system lets users ‘tag’ objects with NFC stickers that load audio notes recorded by the user.

The Ultrasonic Cover is perhaps the most exciting of the three. Simply slip it around the Galaxy Core Advance (a low-range handset with a 4.7-inch screen) and Samsung says it will use ultrasound (sound waves with a frequency beyond human hearing) to detect objects in front of the user, bouncing them off the phone's surroundings and vibrating when something might be about to block the user's path.

Although Samsung is known for churning out smartphones and accessories of various specifications it’s not always that they do so with such altruistic purpose.

With an estimated 285 million people visually impaired people living across the globe and with smartphones becoming cheaper and cheaper, technology like this could help change the lives of many – as well as offer some good business for the companies that sell them.