New accessibility technologies for blind and visually impaired people usually entail head-mounted video components with some means of translating for or alerting users. Examples include eSight’s electronic glasses for the legally blind and the Horus headset. Occasionally we find a research group taking a different approach, such as 3D Photoworks’ Tactile Fine Art Printing that offers the blind art appreciation experience via touch.

Brian A. Smith, a Columbia Engineering Computer Science Ph.D. candidate, developed RAD, a racing auditory display. RAD helps visually impaired gamers play racing games with a high degree of proficiency. According to Smith, game developers can integrate RAD with most racing video games. All a player needs is a set of headphones and a PlayStation 4 controller. RAD doesn’t strip down the video racing experience. The interface uses audio signaling to convey situational awareness with full 3D graphics, vehicle physics, and multiple, complex racecourses. Racing games typically load players with vast amounts and types of information. Smith’s design focuses on giving players sufficient information for control and excitement without overwhelming them. Employing two distinct sound factors for audio navigation and driver assistance, the RAD has a sound slider to convey speed and trajectory and an audio turn indicator system that alerts players of upcoming turns. With practice, RAD users can learn track layouts, cut tight corners, strategically choose early or late apexes, and how and when to brake for the fastest turns.

Smith’s future plans include incorporating information about other vehicles on the track. In addition to racing games, Smith wants to create systems to enable the blind and visually impaired to play adventure and role-playing games as well as first-person shooters.