This study investigated how effectively audition can be used to guide navigation around an obstacle. Ten blindfolded normally sighted participants navigated around a 0.6 x 2 m obstacle while producing self-generated mouth click sounds. Objective movement performance was measured using a Vicon motion capture system. Performance with full vision without generating sound was used as a baseline for comparison. The obstacle's location was varied randomly from trial to trial: it was either straight ahead or 25 cm to the left or right relative to the participant. Although audition provided sufficient information to detect the obstacle and guide participants around it without collision in the majority of trials, buffer space (clearance between the shoulder and obstacle), overall movement times, and number of velocity corrections were significantly (p < 0.05) greater with auditory guidance than visual guidance. Collisions sometime occurred under auditory guidance, suggesting that audition did not always provide an accurate estimate of the space between the participant and obstacle. Unlike visual guidance, participants did not always walk around the side that afforded the most space during auditory guidance. Mean buffer space was 1.8 times higher under auditory than under visual guidance. Results suggest that sound can be used to generate buffer space when vision is unavailable, allowing navigation around an obstacle without collision in the majority of trials.
An assessment of auditory-guided locomotion in an obstacle circumvention task
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