[Nfbnet-members-list] Sunu Band Blog
dandrews at visi.com
Sat Dec 12 19:54:34 UTC 2015
National Federation of the Blind Jernigan Institute Research Collaboration:
Submitted by mjones on Fri, 12/11/2015 - 16:48
Friday, December 11, 2015
By Amy Mason
The National Federation of the Blind Jernigan Institute leads the quest to
understand the real problems of blindness and to develop innovative
education, technologies, products, and services that help the world's blind
to achieve greater independence. Many technology developers have the best
intensions when designing that great next product for the blind.
Unfortunately they do not include blind people in the process. We strongly
encourage developers of innovative nonvisual access technologies to work
with us during the design and development phase. By leveraging the expertise
and the life experience of the independent blind with the engineering
expertise of these developers of next generation technologies, the result is
an innovative, more useful product for the blind.
Last year we began just such a collaborative relationship with a startup by
the name of UStraap. In 2014, we were contacted by one of the project's
creators, Marco Trujillo, and asked to look at his prototype device. Our
initial impressions can be seen in a previous AT Blog post about the USTRAAP
<https://nfb.org/blog/atblog/ustraap-system> . To paraphrase, at that time,
we believed that the device had promise, and we were excited to see where it
was going to go. It has indeed undergone several iterations of changes after
extensive testing with blind people, and now goes by the name of Sunu.
In this post we want to share a bit of our interactions with the creators of
the Sunu to provide a peak into the workings of the Access Technology Team
and how we assist manufacturers in providing useful tools to blind
consumers. The following is a brief description and critique of the Sunu
Band by Sunu, and a sample of the feedback we were able to provide to the
developers. In order to maintain the integrity of their intellectual
property, we are only able to provide examples of questions and suggestions
that demonstrate, in a small way, the benefit of our collaboration.
The Sunu Band
Sunu describes the Sunu Band as a smart-bracelet that uses sonar
"look-ahead" technology, empowering mobility and independence for people
living with impaired vision by helping improve awareness, orientation, and
mobility, which can be used with other aids. The Sunu Band is a wearable
bracelet with a sonar sensor, two buttons on the watch face, and an
adjustable wristband. The device provides haptic feedback about surroundings
to the user. You simply point or scan with the sensor on the device, and the
closer you come to a person or object, the more intense the vibrations on
your wrist become. There is also a separate Sunu Tag that can be used as a
locator device for easily misplaced items. The tag will beep, and the
wristband vibrates faster as the two come closer, "rather like a game of
'hot or cold' with a prize of rediscovering your missing keys." There are
promises of leveraging app integration to create enhanced functionality, and
add other features. The one that has already been implemented well enough to
be tried by our team is a vibrating watch feature, similar to that offered
by the Meteor Vibrating Pocket Watch. We will discuss each of these three
features in turn, including our thoughts on how to improve the
functionality, and finish with information on where you can go to get your
hands on the device if it piques your interest.
The Sunu Band started life as merely a navigational aid intended to provide
additional information to cane and dog guide users. As such, this is still
the heart of the device and its functionality. The band uses sonar waves to
gather information about the user's surroundings and conveys information on
how near the user is to an obstacle by vibrating with increasing frequency
as the user nears it. It offers both an outdoor and an indoor navigation
mode. Indoor mode uses a narrower band and a shorter range in order to
provide more detailed information when a user is in more crowded settings,
and may be moving more slowly. In our testing, we found that the Sunu may be
useful in a number of indoor and outdoor situations including:
. Simulating shore-lining technique. For instance, indoors, a user could
use the band to search across the hall for openings where the hall turns or
open doors. Outdoors, it could be used to search for bus shelters, entrance
alcoves for businesses, or other open spaces.
. Following people in a line. By pointing the band at a person in front
of the user in line, they can feel the change in vibrational pattern as the
line moves up, without having to search as often for that person with the
tip of the cane.
. Detecting objects at head height. By angling the wrist just a little,
it was possible for our testers to discover tree branches and other
obstacles that might offer a nasty shock to the traveler.
It is rather clever in that it provides to cane users some of the
foreknowledge of more distant objects enjoyed by dog users, and allows dog
users to gather information about the obstacles they are maneuvering around
with their guide.
Sunu states, "It is easy to learn within minutes." So we put this assertion
to the test. Several staff members took the Sunu Band through some basic
mobility scenarios. For some the indoor navigation functionality of the
device took a little time to acclimate to, while others picked it up very
intuitively. In discussions with the developers, they state that although
you can learn to operate the device in minutes, it does take more time to
master its use. We are hopeful that there are opportunities in the future
for us to assist with the development of additional training materials. Our
opinion is that it would be a helpful device for individuals to use as a
complement to good orientation and mobility skills training.
Of course, when evaluating technologies that provide nonvisual information,
there is always a tricky balance between how much is too much information.
This is complicated by the fact that what is considered too much information
for some may be considered too little information for others. This is why we
definitely appreciate the ability to put the Sunu Band in sleep mode with
The one area of concern with the band as a navigational tool that we noted
at this time is that it is easily covered by the sleeve of a winter coat,
and may not be as useful in the colder months outdoors.
Sunu Locator Tag
The tag is a pretty simple concept. A user places the tag on or in a bag,
luggage, keys, or other easily-misplaced object. When the user wishes to
locate the item, they can either use the wristband or the intended
smartphone app to trigger the tag and follow the vibrations of the wristband
or audible tones from the tag to help reunite them with their wandering
belonging. The additional ability to use the vibrations on the band will
hopefully make it possible for a user to silence the tag and find the item
in question without alerting others in the area to the search.
We have been providing on-going support in the development of this
technology and were pleased that some improvements have already been made.
For example, the Sunu Tag is a much nicer size and shape than the original
design, and also works well in our testing with the Sunu Band. We are
looking forward to the integration with the app and Bluetooth, which should
give it slightly longer range.
As previously mentioned, the Sunu Band, although referred to as a bracelet,
also tells time, like a watch. The original method of obtaining the time was
deemed by our testers as a little too conspicuous. We emphasized that many
people want to check the time in class, or in a boring meeting, and not let
others know they are counting down the minutes. Although this was also input
the developers received from others, we were able to give some additional
useful feedback on some suggested alternative methods of checking the time.
We are hopeful that with app integration, alarms may also be included in the
device, as the Sunu would prove to be a nicely inconspicuous way to keep
track of upcoming appointments, and might even provide an alternative to a
loudly buzzing alarm clock.
Design and Other Thoughts
We found the wireless charging feature of the device to be an interesting
alternative to the more familiar USB chargers being used by most
technologies. We expressed our disappointment that, in the beta unit, there
was no non-visual indication that the products are actually charging. They
informed us that they have a strategy for dealing with this in the final
version. Moreover, they consulted us on using USB as an alternative option
for charging the device. Using USB to directly charge the device may be more
familiar to most users and may be more secure, because it is less likely the
device will be knocked off its charger. However, USB seems like a possible
point of malfunction due to plugging and unplugging the device. USB Micro
just doesn't seem very sturdy and the charging disk would be unplugged a lot
less often than the band, which would minimize the wear and tear on the band
In our discussions with Marco, we learned that the folks from Sunu are
hoping to add more features via their smartphone app, including some which
may work with iBeacon and indoor navigation technology. We are very
interested to see what may come of these discussions, and will continue to
provide our guidance to the team at Sunu as they continue creating this very
versatile and interesting piece of technology.
"Tested and validated" is Sunu's current claim. As the oldest, largest
organization of the blind in the United States, the National Federation of
the Blind is pleased that we are being afforded the opportunity to test and
aid in the development of the product. We can validate that it is an
innovative piece of access technology with great potential. We are hopeful
that the Sunu Band technology will be integrated into one of the emerging
navigation technologies we are identifying through our NFB Indoor Navigation
We make sure that technology developers understand that it is important that
any wearable technology is both functional and stylish. The prototype of the
Sunu Band has a wristband that can be sized fairly easily, and we found the
to be a very simple and elegant solution.
Sunu informs us that the design of the final product will be even better.
All in all, we cannot wait to see the final product, and with the advent of
app and possible beacon integration, we are really quite excited by what the
future holds for the Sunu Band.
For more information about the Sunu Band, visit http://sunu.io/ or their
Indiegogo campaign. The intended retail price for the band and one tag is
planned to be $250. During the campaign, the band and tag combo is available
at a discounted price of $199, and for this weekend they are planning to
offer a special package with the band only at $70.
To suggest other products in development for review, please email
jerniganinstitute at nfb.org.
David Andrews and Long White Cane Harry
dandrews at visi.com or david.andrews at nfbnet.org
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