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Faculty of Engineering

UltraBike featured in London Science Museum

Tuesday 10 December 2013

UltraBike at The London Science MuseumResearchers from the School of Process, Environmental and Materials Engineering have helped to develop an ‘UltraBike’ which uses ultrasound to help blind and visually impaired people to cycle. The UltraBike, which has been the subject of major interest, is now on display at the London Science Museum.

Professor Brian Hoyle is involved in work ‘looking inside’ a wide range of industrial processes using a revolutionary technology that provides data similar to ‘body scanners’ used for human diagnosis. This involves applying ‘external energy’ with sensors to measure effects plus sophisticated processing, to yield ‘images’ of the internal process distributions. A key energy source for some processes (that feature gas/liquid mixtures) is ultrasound. Work using this high frequency sound, in association with colleagues at Leeds, led to the ‘lateral thinking’ invention of the UltraCane aid for blind and visually impaired people, developed by Ultracane spin-out company ‘Sound Foresight Technology’.

This was recently featured in “Richard Hammond’s Miracles of Nature” BBC1 TV programme, which illustrated how bats, which can fly in complete darkness, inspired this invention. A challenge on the programme was to see if a blind rider could use similar technology to ride a bike in a wooded environment typically inhabited by bats, which led the creation of a prototype UltraBike, engineered by the UltraCane company.

The Ultracane on Richard Hammond’s Miracles of Nature BBC1 TV programme The UltraBike on Richard Hammond’s Miracles of Nature BBC1 TV programme

After the programme there was major interest in the concept of blind people riding bikes solo in an appropriate space. More developed UltraBike kits were manufactured and used at a major event in Summer 2013 in Bristol where 25 blind people rode solo around a track in the large Millennium Amphitheatre.

The London Science Museum now features the UltraBike in its new technologies “Antenna” exhibition space, where it will be displayed for the next few months. The display offers a selection of details of the UltraBike and its inspiration and operation plus a static view of the UltraBike ‘kit’ designed to attach simply to the handlebars of a conventional bicycle or tricycle.

UltraBike at the London Science Museum
Image: Jennie Hills, Science Museum London

Professor Hoyle said "it’s always satisfying to see research ideas in action, but it was tremendously rewarding to be involved in this wider project in which we worked with visually impaired people to create products that they tell us enhance their lives."

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