, Volume 33, Issue 4, pp 583–597 | Cite as

Assistive Device Art: aiding audio spatial location through the Echolocation Headphones

  • Aisen C. ChacinEmail author
  • Hiroo Iwata
  • Victoria Vesna
Open Forum


Assistive Device Art derives from the integration of Assistive Technology and Art, involving the mediation of sensorimotor functions and perception from both, psychophysical methods and conceptual mechanics of sensory embodiment. This paper describes the concept of ADA and its origins by observing the phenomena that surround the aesthetics of prosthesis-related art. It also analyzes one case study, the Echolocation Headphones, relating its provenience and performance to this new conceptual and psychophysical approach of tool design. This ADA tool is designed to aid human echolocation. They facilitate the experience of sonic vision, as a way of reflecting and learning about the construct of our spatial perception. Echolocation Headphones are a pair of opaque goggles which disable the participant’s vision. This device emits a focused sound beam which activates the space with directional acoustic reflection, giving the user the ability to navigate and perceive space through audition. The directional properties of parametric sound provide the participant a focal echo, similar to the focal point of vision. This study analyzes the effectiveness of this wearable sensory extension for aiding auditory spatial location in three experiments; optimal sound type and distance for object location, perceptual resolution by just noticeable difference, and goal-directed spatial navigation for open pathway detection, all conducted at the Virtual Reality Lab of the University of Tsukuba, Japan. The Echolocation Headphones have been designed for a diverse participant base. They have both the potential to aid auditory spatial perception for the visually impaired and to train sighted individuals in gaining human echolocation abilities. Furthermore, this Assistive Device artwork instigates participants to contemplate on the plasticity of their sensorimotor architecture.


Assistive Technology Human echolocation Device Art Sensory substitution 



The research conducted for this manuscript and prototype were supported by the Empowerment Informatics department at the University of Tsukuba, University of California, Los Angeles, and the National Science Foundation. This research has been made possible by the careful consideration and advisement of Hiroo Iwata, Victoria Vesna, and Hiroaki Yano, and with the editing help of Tyson Urich and Nicholas Spencer.


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Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag London Ltd. 2017

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Empowerment Informatics, School of Integrative and Global Majors (SIGMA)University of TsukubaTsukubaJapan
  2. 2.UCLA Design Media Arts, Broad Art CenterLos AngelesUSA

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