WearWorks Provides Haptic Feedback for Blind Runners

Simon Wheatcroft, like most Americans that are blind, was not born blind. He began to lose his vision at age seventeen due to a degenerative eye condition called retinitis pigmentosa. This did not stop him from continuing to pursue his passion for outdoor activities including competitive running. He faced the same issues that many athletes that are blind face, including how to safely and comfortably continue their physical activity in a world built for sighted persons. This is where his partnership with WearWorks, a Brooklyn-based start-up and their running assistant prototype, Wayband, came in. In an interview with The Verge, Wheatcroft said, “As a blind person, you always strive for independence. But it’s a bit of a contradiction, because oftentimes, you’re using somebody with sight to become independent. What we’re trying to do is use this technology to really achieve true independence. This race isn’t about time, it’s proving that something is possible.”
The inspiration for Wayband came from the question, how do we make people that are visually impaired more mobile? WearWorks was founded by three graduate students from New York’s Pratt Institute from various disciplines. Keith Kirkland served as the project’s fashion designer and engineer, Yangyang Wang and Kevin Yoo as sculptors and industrial engineers respectively. The team set out to design a prototype that could provide runners with haptic feedback instead of the more traditional audio cues. The core of the WearWorks technology is fairly simple: athletes pair the device with their phone which utilizes the device’s GPS to map a route. A “virtual fence” is created which buzzes the user every time they step out of it, with additional buzzes for when the user should go right or left. The team aimed to “keep it functional and simple,” says Yoo. “We actually went to the National Federation for the Blind, and they told us high-tech canes and proximity sensors are great, but what really would help us is wayfinding.” On using the device Wheatcroft described it as a “safe sandbox,” which features more precise area approximation versus other running assistive devices (2.5 meter corridors versus 10-50 meters). 
Wheatcroft has run various marathons and ultramarathons, including the Boston Marathon in 2016, the New York Marathon twice and a route from New York to Boston over nine days. Using devices like WearWorks, he hopes to continue adding to that list. With an increasingly aging population and those with mobility impairments, devices such as WearWorks are an innovative alternative to traditional audio and environmental solutions. The haptic feedback of the device is key to its precision as many athletes that are blind complain of audio overload from existing devices. Source: Patrick Sisson, The Verge. 


The contents of this website were developed under a grant from the National Institute on Disability, Independent Living, and Rehabilitation Research (NIDILRR grant number 90RE5025-01-00). NIDILRR is a Center within the Administration for Community Living (ACL), Department of Health and Human Services (HHS). The contents of this website do not necessarily represent the policy of NIDILRR, ACL, HHS, and you should not assume endorsement by the Federal Government.