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Ultrasound mobility aid for the blind using frequency modulated nerve stimulation


M Muwyid Uzzaman Khan#1, M Shamiul Fahad#2 and K Siddique-e-Rabbani*3

Department of Electrical & Electronic Engineering, Islamic University of Technology Gazipur, Bangladesh 1, 2, * Department of Biomedical Physics & Technology, University of Dhaka, Dhaka, Bangladesh, 3 hearing usually gets enhanced to provide subtle and important information of the surroundings. Therefore engaging the ear to receive information through such an artificial device will rob the person of some important information that s/he could otherwise obtain and decipher. The mobility aid developed in the present work was designed to keep the above faculty of hearing undisturbed; using nerve stimulation came out as a sensible choice. On a different application setting, nerve stimulation at wrist as an aid for the profoundly deaf was attempted by a group at Sheffield [5] which prompted this idea. In the scheme proposed and developed in the present work, the wearer should be able to sense both the presence of an object in the neighbourhood, and the direction of movement of object, whether it is moving towards or away from the wearer. Moreover, the information is refreshed almost every 150 milliseconds, i.e., about 6 times a second, making the sensation almost real time and dynamic. II. METHODS A. System Design

Abstract – Some of the existing electronic aids for the blind use ultrasound pulsed echoes, and pass on the information through sound signals into the ear. This curtails the normal faculty of hearing which a blind person uses to a great extent in getting information of the surroundings. The present device gets around this shortcoming by passing the information through nerve stimulations, preferably at the wrist. Here time delays of ultrasound echo pulses are used to modulate the frequency of nerve stimulation, higher frequencies for shorter delays, corresponding to shorter object distances. This was designed to match the common psychological response of attributing higher frequencies to danger, creating a natural reaction for moving away. The highest frequency a human nerve can be stimulated to is about 500Hz, and pulses with heights of 100V to 200V are required for stimulating nerves passing just under the skin using surface electrodes. Necessary electronic circuit designs were made and a prototype fabricated in the present work. The prototype was tested for short distances up to 20cm giving very good linear response between object distance and the stimulating frequency, with the inverse characteristics as mentioned above. Reduction of noise through proper housing and shielding will allow the device to be useful to a practical distance of about 10m using 40kHz ultrasound transducers. Keywords— Ultrasound, transducer, echolocation, surface electrodes, nerve stimulation.

I. INTRODUCTION This paper presents an experimental prototype of an electronic mobility aid that informs a blind person of objects in the surrounding, stationary or moving. The information is obtained using ultrasound pulse echo technique and delivered to the user through nerve stimulations at a suitable location. The frequency of the nerve stimulations delivered to the blind person is varied according to the distance between the blind person and the obstacle. Existing aids similar to ours include devices that warn the user about obstacles by virtue of sound signals delivered via earplugs [1-4]. This technique has the disadvantage in that it impedes the natural hearing due to the ear plug itself besides cluttering the normal sound through the extra stimuli coming from this new device. For a blind person the analytical ability of the brain based on the faculty of

The proposed unit will send out directional ultrasound impulses at a suitable repetition rate through an ultrasound transducer. The echo from an object will be received by another ultrasound transducer, amplified and conditioned to produce a clean pulse. The time delay of the echo will be measured using an electronic circuitry which in turn will produce a series of nerve stimulating impulses, the frequency of which will change with the time delay. For the present application a choice was made to have a higher frequency of stimulation for a shorter time delay, corresponding to a shorter object distance and vice versa. This means that as a moving object comes nearer, the frequency of stimulation will increase. This choice follows the psychological response that an increased rate of stimulus heightens a person’s sense of danger, making him/her more alert and hence more likely to manoeuvre away from the obstacle. In order to measure the time of arrival of the echo a linear ramp generator will be triggered at the moment of pulse transmission, and the voltage value will be sampled when the echo pulse is received. This voltage value will be

ii) Triggered ramp Generator: The above pulse generator for the transmitter triggers a ramp generator built around U9 which again uses the same timer IC (555). The values of the circuit parameters were chosen accordingly. i) Pulsed ultrasound transmitter: This section is built around U11. If the pulse width is larger. less than 200cm. which is reasonable. and finally. Finally a nerve stimulator circuitry will be designed to be triggered by the output of the VCO. At a sound velocity of 330m/s in air. Although this should allow greater distance coverage theoretically. The repetition period of the pulse was designed based on the maximum distance that is intended to be covered by this device. This is the minimum pulse period the device should have. ii) triggered ramp generator to produce a voltage proportional to the time delay of echo. two consecutive damped sinusoids would be generated at both the rising edge and the falling edge of the pulse which is not desirable. some of these parameters will need to be changed appropriately. B. It needs to be mentioned that the first laboratory prototype was fabricated for short distance ranges. so that the information will be adjusted roughly 6 times a second. Ultrasounds at higher frequencies are attenuated severely in air and are therefore not suitable. the desired object distance of 10m corresponds to an echo period of about 60ms. . vi) a nerve stimulator driven by the output of the VCO. As mentioned above the first laboratory prototype was designed for a short distance range. iii) receiving amplifier and pulse shaper to create a clean pulse from the received echo. Circuit Design The system is planned for a typical working distance of about 10m. iv) sample and hold circuit to hold the ramp voltage at the instant of the arrival of the echo pulse. starting from the moment of the transmitted pulse. therefore the pulse width of the electronic generator much less than this period in order to deliver a single short burst of damped sinusoids. For a larger distance. but the practical range of sensitivity given by the 40kHz ultrasound transducers used may not allow more than about 10m as mentioned above. v) voltage controlled oscillator (VCO) to produce pulses whose repetition frequency decreases with increasing control voltage. corresponding to the shortest distance designed for the system to detect. and so the period of the ramp generator was chosen accordingly. Commercially available ultrasound transducers at 40kHz will satisfy this requirement. The developed circuit is shown in figure 1 and a brief description of each of the circuit blocks is given below. and the frequency of information update for the user. and the circuit parameters were adjusted accordingly. In the prototype the period was chosen to be around 165ms. The VCO will be designed to give lower frequency for higher input voltage. and will be used as the input to a voltage controlled oscillator (VCO). and the maximum will be chosen at 500Hz for a low threshold voltage. The above gives an outline of the whole system requirement which should consist of the following: i) pulse generator giving pulses at a suitable repetition rate and a matching driver for the ultrasound transducer.directly proportional to the time delay. a popular timer IC (555) to deliver free running pulses to a 40kHz ultrasound transducer through a driver transistor Q2. A typical nerve stimulator will give a 200V pulse with a width of about 1ms. For a longer Fig 1: Circuit Diagram of device. The time period at 40kHz is 25 µs.

Measured pulse delay time against distance Fig 3. This time would correspond to a maximum range of 165cm (considering twice the distance covered by the ultrasound pulse). III. built around U6. rectify and smooth the signal to produce a dc pulse output which is further refined using a Schmitt trigger. U4 and U5. One of the conditions is that the modulating voltage. The amplifiers are built around U1 and U2 which are straightforward non-inverting amplifiers with high pass filters on both sides to minimise unwanted mains borne (50Hz) noise and dc offset voltages. this S/H circuit (U10) takes a sample of the voltage of the ramp generator mentioned above and holds it at that value for a certain time (a few ms) for processing by the next circuit. A target object was placed at various distances from the ultrasound transducers. iii) Receiving amplifier and pulse shaper: The transmitted ultrasound pulse is usually in the form of a damped sinusoid because of the natural frequency of oscillation of the transmitting transducer. Common opamps (TL074) that were used for the present design do not have much open loop gain at 40kHz. The components linked to the VCO IC were chosen and adjusted so that echoes from practically nearest target objects would give a frequency of 500Hz and that from the most distant ones (as designed). The electronics at the receiving end has to create a square pulse from this 40kHz wave packet. both of which were kept at the same level. This output is level shifted using U7 and U8 to suit the requirement of the VCO that follows. this period has to be changed appropriately. the circuit parts were combined for the final test of performance. the range was chosen in such a way that the output of the ramp generator would rise from 0 to 8V within 10ms. On the other hand the inertial characteristics of the receiving transducer contribute to a gradual increase of the waveform at the beginning. marked U12). care was taken so that direct output from the transmitter does not reach the receiver. For this laboratory version. Two transistors (Q3 and Q4) were used in sequence to provide adequate current amplification for driving the transformer. Thus the resulting received electrical pulse is in the form of a 40kHz wave packet with a gradually rising and then a gradually decreasing amplitude pattern. where the nerve runs just below the skin. waiting for the next trigger. voltage pulses between 100V and 200V are necessary to produce adequate stimulation.5 seconds. The output provides a trigger for the sampleand-hold (S/H) circuit. coming from the output of U8. The time delay between transmitted and received echo pulses. iv) S/H circuit and level shifter: On getting a trigger from the above circuit which corresponds to the time of receiving an echo pulse. When these individual performances were satisfactory. The output of the transformer gives the Fig 2. voltage output of the ramp generator. Measured stimulating frequency against distance necessary stimulating pulses to the human body through metal electrodes placed on the skin. v) Voltage Controlled Oscillator (VCO): There are two conditions that have to be fulfilled for the proper functioning of the VCO IC (SE566. If no input comes due to absence of any object in the vicinity (no echo) the S/H output resets to the base value automatically after about 1. therefore two stages were used. and the frequency output of the VCO. The next stages. vi) Nerve Stimulator: For stimulation of nerve using skin surface electrodes at the wrist. Hence it is necessary to take the sampled voltage coming from the S/H circuit to the necessary range given by the condition. 50Hz. However. should be between three-fourth supply voltage and the supply voltage. RESULTS The performances of each section were measured separately to find out whether these give the desired outputs. which is the effective nerve . built around U3. This calls for the use of a level shifter prior to the VCO as mentioned above. This high voltage has been obtained using an off-the-shelf step down transformer (220V to 9V) connected in the reverse step-up mode.distance range.

vol. The authors also greatly thanks and share their gratitude towards the technical facilities affiliated with the Department of Biomedical Physics and Technology in University of Dhaka and acknowledge to all the staffs of these two departments for their sincere attributes. R H Smallwood. making it rather unpleasant and painful. [3] [4] [5] [6] . 104-111. For more practical usage. Furthermore. which is apparent from the very limited availability of these devices in the market. Phys. The ultrasound transducers may be mounted on a spectacle frame allowing the user to scan the surroundings by rotating and moving the head. a faculty which often is enhanced to discriminate subtle information that a normal person cannot. Vis. or the last two nerves at the wrist. As a nearest point of stimulation one may be inclined to use the facial nerve. Tadayuki Sasaki. REFERENCES [1] [2] Tohru Ifukube. 1981 G S Dodgson et al . based on the amplitude of the received pulse. Meas. “A sonar system modelled after spatial hearing and echolocating bats for blind mobility aid”. attempts to develop such technologies in the Third World itself are necessary viewed from the points of both cost and sustainability. vol. although this will require a long wiring from the spectacle frame to the wrist electrodes. Vol 22. wrist appears to be the best place for stimulation having no muscle and a minimum of fat layer. 206-209. 1999. Furthermore. This new technique does not curtail the natural faculty of hearing which a blind person has. No. All the points except the wrist have muscle around and fatty layers under the skin. such as the nature of the obstacle. an additional system may be placed with transducers facing the opposite way. This will need housing the transducers and the electronic circuitry in properly shielded enclosures. the range of the device has to be increased to about 10m. Vol. it may be rather unpleasant to the user. IEEE Transactions on biomedical engineering. was designed for short distances to test the effectiveness of the developed circuitry. Therefore. built up on a circuit prototyping breadboard. pp. The former may cause interruption of stimulation due to muscle moving in under the electrodes. P V Lawford and D R Hose. For this a time varying gain in the receiving pulse amplifier (called a swept gain amplifier) would be needed as used in traditional ultrasound scanners. Again whatever is available comes from the technologically advanced countries. to some extent. In future more information may be incorporated. IV. Therefore. ACKNOWLEDGMENT The authors wish to acknowledge the support from the Department of Electrical & Electronic Engineering of Islamic University of Technology for their conform support to accomplish this work.”. while the latter will demand much higher currents for stimulation. Clin. Other options may be the radial nerve in the upper arm. Besides. which shows a success of the method. Impair Blind. The nerve stimulations may be applied at any point where the nerve fibres run just underneath the skin. and the way they are moving.” Vol. it may be considered whether three dimensional positional information may be obtained using two or three transmitter-receiver pairs and computational techniques. Man and Cybernetics. International Journal of Physical Sciences. 1992 Heyes AD “The Nottingham obstacle detector: a technical description. “Medical Physics and Biomedical Engineering”. 4. 5. As already mentioned. 2.1983 B H Brown. 2007 Barshan B. The variations of measured pulse delay time and stimulating frequency with object distance are shown in figures 2 and 3 respectively.”. 1991 Bitjoka Laurent and Takougang Noupowou Alain Christian. J. “A Blind Mobility Aid Modeled After Echolocation of Bats”. for objects lying at the back of the user. going for nerve stimulation in presenting the deciphered information to a blind person makes a significant improvement over existing technologies that deliver the information through the ear. such devices fall short of the requirements of sustainability since the design is not often appropriate for the target region. and Chen Peng. Physiol. 38.stimulating frequency. pp. and having shielded cables for signal transmission between different segments of the device. median and ulnar nerves at the elbow. 75. and these turn out to be too expensive and unaffordable to the majority of potential users in the Third World. which will be made to alter the intensity of stimulation. 403-416. the received signal will be very weak and adequate care has to be exercised in reducing interference and noise as much as possible. D C Barber. repair and maintenance in a country remote from that of the manufacturer becomes a practical impossibility. Kuc R “A bat like sonar system for object localisation. IEEE Transactions on Systems. DISCUSSION Technological aids such as the one developed in the present work for the blind may improve the quality of life of physically disadvantaged people to a great extent. pp. 636-646. It is rather unfortunate that not much effort is given to develop such technologies. however. pp. Besides. “Electrical stimulation at the wrist as an aid for the profoundly deaf”. At such distances. thus being able to judge the size of objects in the surroundings. Tests made up to a distance of about 20 cm show a good linearity between the nerve stimulation frequency and the distance of the target object. Institute of Physics Publishing. The experimental prototype. were measured..