Disability Innovations: How bats can help visually impaired people cycle

Five cyclists in a line with UltraBike technology affixed to their bikes

Disability Innovations is a blog series that gathers some of the most interesting new products and services that aim to make disabled people’s lives easier. We hope it will inspire more innovation in the disability field.

What is the UltraBike?

If you have a visual impairment and want to cycle, your only real option right now is to ride a tandem with a sighted ‘pilot’, who can steer you and guide you . The UltraBike is a ‘kit’ that can be fixed to the handlebars of a bicycle to enable a visually impaired person to cycle independently.

How does the UltraBike work?

The UltraBike uses technology inspired by bats, who use ultrasonic hearing to avoid obstacles when moving around the dark.

The technology was originally applied to the UltraCane, a high-tech white cane for people with visual impairments. It emits ultrasonic sound waves, which bounce off objects and back to the cane. The cane then beeps and vibrates in response, to alert the user of the obstacle. Beeps and vibrations increase in frequency as the object gets closer.

The UltraBike kit is detachable and can be fixed to the front of any bike. It’s made up of two ultrasound sensors on the handlebars, which detect obstacles in the cyclist’s path, both in front and to either side of the bike. Then there are two ‘arms’ attached, one on each handle, containing “tractor” buttons. The cyclist places their thumbs on these buttons, which vibrate when the sensors detect obstacles. Sensors work up to 8 metres ahead, so can give the cyclist plenty of warning to change direction or stop.

Who can use the UltraBike?

The kit can be attached to the handlebars of any child or adult’s bicycle. It is only designed for use on a controlled cycle track and not on busy roads or streets. It has great potential for future use in sports and velodromes, as an alternative to tandem cycling.

The kit has already been used by many cycling clubs with visually impaired cyclists, at large cycling events and has even been featured at the Science Museum.

The developers behind the UltraBike, Sound Foresight Technology, are looking to further develop the UltraBike kit this year, to enable it to be adapted for more types of bicycles. They will be holding more events with it in this summer.

Why we like UltraBike

The best bit about the kit is that it’s portable, and allows you to adapt any mainstream bike into an accessible bike, without the need for expensive specialist technology.

We love how it takes the existing technology used in white canes, and puts it to a whole new use. After all, innovation is all about taking old ideas and using them in new and exciting ways!

This blog is for information only. Scope does not endorse this product or service. We try to make sure our information is up to date and accurate at the time of publishing.

To tell us about a Disability Innovation, please email innovation@scope.org.uk

“If they give me a chance, I can prove what I can do.” – #100days100stories

Georgina, who has learning difficulties and two children, spent 15 years out of work. Support from Scope gave her the confidence to start volunteering, update her CV and prepare for interviews. Georgina shares her story as part of Scope’s 100 days, 100 stories campaign.

Georgina holding her CV
Georgina spent 15 years out of work

Last May I started working in a factory. Before that, I hadn’t worked since 1997, when I had my daughter.

I planned to go back to work when my daughter started school, but by then I was pregnant with my son, so I stayed at home with him. He has learning and behavioural problems, and it has been very difficult. It wasn’t until 2011 that I could start to look for work.

Looking for work

I have a slight learning disability, so my brain doesn’t process things as quickly as someone else’s might in certain areas. In my new job I haven’t struggled, but some things are difficult.

Since 2011 I’ve been on Jobseeker’s Allowance. I got put in touch with Scope through the disability officer at the Jobcentre in 2012. I worked with Jan, an employment advisor.

I had no references, and there was no way I was getting a job without one. Jan and I decided that we’d write me a CV and drop them in at charity shops – do some volunteer work to get a reference.

One of them, a Red Cross shop, got back to me, so I started volunteering there. It was meant to be just for a reference, but two years later I was still there! I learnt a lot, and I still go back to help out sometimes.

Georgina and Jan, Scope employment advisor, working at a laptop computer
Scope employment advisor Jan supported Georgina to update her CV and prepare for interviews

Gaining confidence

Jan would either make appointments to come into the shop to see me, or I would come to Scope’s office in Eastbourne. We would meet once a week. We did work schedules, talking about what I’d done in that week, and I did my job search.

My confidence and self-esteem weren’t that great for a long time, but it’s better now.

At the charity shop I learnt to do basically everything. The manager, Michaela, said I should apply for Assistant Manager jobs in charity shops – I have all the skills. I’m pretty good at saying, ‘Oh, I can’t do this, I can’t do that’, and then finding that I can do it after all.

Getting the job

Someone at Scope saw this job opening and said I should go for it, and Jan went with me to the interview.

I am a good hard worker, if given the chance, but if I hadn’t have been with Scope when I’d gone for that interview, I know that the shop wouldn’t have offered me the job.

Not everywhere will give me a chance. If they give me a chance, then I can prove what I can do.

If you would like to talk about employment support for disabled people, we have a recruitment advisor from the Business Disability Forum on Scope’s online community now.

Read more of our 100 stories, and find out how you can get involved in the campaign.