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