A new sonar assistance device will help blind and visually impaired people navigate busy streets.

The sonar detector is mounted on a waistband and shoulder strap and sends out a series of bleeps similar to a bat in flight.

The system incorporates a range of electronic gadgetry including sonar, vision and infrared sensors.

When the high pitched signals hit an object, the sound is reflected back to the person wearing the device, who feels an buzzing sensation thereby identifying an object or blockage in their path.

Researchers from Britain, Germany and France are working on the prototype.

Shoulder mounted stereoscopic cameras will feed visual data to a backpack computer that keeps the blind person midway on the pavement.

The system will also pass on information relating to the height of steps. The electronic pathfinder can also steer a person to a specific destination using a combination of a phone call and mapping systems.

Trials of the device have been going on at the Irish Guide Dogs Association (IGDA) in Cork and Simon Higgs of the IGDA is convinced that the system will be easy to use. Paul Higgins has been trying out the device with great results.

It will give you that flexibility with mobility. You can walk centre pavement in relative safety. You can pick up all types of obstacles in your way.

While the new technology will not replace guide dogs, it will mean more freedom for blind people. The device is expected to become available on the market in 1998.

An RTÉ News report broadcast on 5 August 1996. The reporter is George Devlin.