Judging from the new devices coming to market, 2023 may be a boom year for assistive technology to help visually impaired people walk independently. I recently wrote about Virtual Volunteer, a ChatGPT-4-powered digital virtual assistant app that connects people with impaired vision who need real-time help to volunteers who help via the app. I also covered Biped, a smart navigation harness that uses self-driving automotive tech to help wearers avoid obstacles. Strap Tech‘s Ara wearable device for the blind and visually impaired employs sensors and haptic feedback to help wearers walk without veering from a straight line or colliding with obstacles. The company states that Ara can even help users walk up and down stairs.

The Ara strap adjusts to fit children and adults. Strap Tech designed the device for users from ages 7 to 80. Ara is a self-contained device with no app to install on your smartphone and you don’t need to connect to other devices, hubs, or platforms to use it. The Ara has ten sensors. Three light Time of Flight (ToF) sensors calculate the distance between two points. Five ultrasonic sensors measure distance. An accelerometer detects speed, and a gyroscope determines when the wearer is going off the desired path. Ten haptic actuators use vibration sequences for obstacle alerts and to help the wearer maintain a straight line. The Ara strap uses the accelerometer to adjust to walking speeds, detecting obstacles further out as speed increases.

According to the device spec sheet, Ara’s battery charges fully in 3 hours via a USB-C port. A full charge lasts up to 8 hours of continuous use, which sounds like a lot of walking. The device can connect to a Wi-Fi network, but there are currently no applications to work with via the internet. The Ara doesn’t work with third-party GPS apps, although that feature is on the planning board. The straight-line navigation feature is still in development but coming soon, Strap Tech claims.

At $1,300, the Ara device is a sizable investment, but if it works as claimed, this wearable could offer new levels of personal independence for visually impaired people as they walk in buildings and on sidewalks, streets, and paths.