Spotlight Stories

Seeing Through Sound

When Google created an incubator project to find ways to use its Tango augmented reality platform, Chad Udell and his team at Float started brainstorming ideas. “A lot of companies were proposing games. And as much as we all love games, we wanted to find something that might have a more meaningful impact on someone’s life,” Chad explains. One of his team members thought about his own sister who was visually impaired and wondered if this technology could help her navigate obstacles more easily. From this idea, Cydalion was born.

Named after the Greek mythology figure Cedalion, who guided Orion when he became blind, Cydalion was designed to help with higher obstacles that a cane or guide dog might not detect, such as a light fixture or shelf. Their research told them that one in four individuals with visual impairments suffer a head or neck injury of some sort at least once a month.

With Cydalion, users place the Tango device in a pouch in their clothing or in a lanyard around their neck, and then they receive sounds and other alerts through a set of bone-conduction headphones. In a way, it's a bit like sonar.

Chad and his team worked with Google and with accessibility experts and users at Illinois State University to refine the design and ended up with users all over the world. Unfortunately, Google discontinued the Tango technology but many of the design concepts found their way into future devices and software tools.

“I do wish the product had lasted longer,” Chad says. “But even so, it was such a valuable experience and gave us so much insight about building inclusivity into all of our designs.” Chad encourages all of us to do the same. “As learning professionals, we have an obligation to be inclusive. So much of the technology we work with in our community has accessibility features. It’s up to us to make sure we read the specifications and do what we can to create solutions that everyone can use.”

And if you want to do more, Chad encourages you to reach out to organizations that serve individuals with disabilities. Many national charities help at a systemic level, “but if you want to make a real difference in an individual person’s life,” Chad says, “find a local organization that has boots on the ground.” Local groups, for example, might have the ability to help an individual who is blind get a screen reader or other assistive technology.

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