A new Microsoft Research project is allowing blind people to navigate VR experiences the same way they would the real world.
The CaneTroller, as the device is called, is designed to emulate using a cane to navigate virtual worlds just like the real world. Using an HTC Vive and a modified cane that utilizes the Vive Tracker and haptic feedback, users can walk around virtual spaces using the cane to get a feel for their surroundings. When the cane comes into contact with an object, it will realistically tap the surface, generating feedback and sounds.
The system consists of a breaking mechanism that the user wears on their waist and is connected using a slider. The cane also has a Voice Coil fitted to the tip to generate tactile sensations. The break will stop the controller from moving when it comes into contact with a surface, while the Voice Coil provides a realistic vibration. Earphones provide 360 degree spatial audio to help users better understand their environment.
It can even simulate running the cane along various surfaces, like a rugged carpet of pavement, which generations different sensations.
You might wonder why a blind person would want to use VR in the first place, but as a peripheral for training simulations or just simply letting the blind get some sense of the virtual worlds we visit every day, this is a pretty amazing tool.