Supporting mobility with a Sunu Band

At Henshaws, we love to share mobility tips, tricks and technology that can support blind and visually impaired people.
So our friends at Sight & Sound Technology sent us a Sunu Band so we could give it a try! Mark from our Digital Team has written this blog to tell us all about this piece of kit...

Introducing the Sunu Band

Sunu Band is a sonar smart band that can improve navigation for people living with sight loss.

It uses sonar or echo location with gentle precise vibrations to inform the user about objects or obstacles within their environment. It is worn on the wrist, like a watch, and can give you an awareness of your space above and beyond the traditional cane or guide dog.

That said, we must emphasise that this isn’t a replacement for a cane or guide dog, but a companion.

Sunu Band and its packaging

I just want to spend the next paragraph underlining that last statement by recalling a recent conversation I had with Simon, our Senior Rehabilitation Officer, about mobility aids. It went something like this… Isn’t this technology fantastic I said, Yes, it’s great, Simon said, but people must have the basics in place before they invest in a blended approach to their mobility solutions.

These gadgets are really useful for giving the person extra information, things a cane may not pick up on, like the overhanging branches, things that stick out when you least expect them – it’s another part of the puzzle filled in. I think it’s important though that people still have independent cane skills in place, just in case their technology or even guide dog are not available for some reason. Sometimes the basics are best!

So, with that said, let’s get back to the subject in hand, the Sunu Band!

Sunu band on a wrist

How does the Sunu Band work?

The Sunu Band uses a type of technology first patented in 1913 by a German inventor, Alexander Behm. His invention was an ocean echo sounder.

Using the same principles of echo location, which is the location of objects by reflecting sound (just like dolphins and bats), the Band emits a high-frequency sound wave that bounces off objects that it identifies, and the resulting vibratory pattern changes depending on how close or far away the object is to the user.

In essence, you will feel vibration pulses on your wrist that become more frequent as an object is close or less frequent as the object is farther away.

The Sunu Band device

The device isn’t a complicated affair – you have the body of the device, where the sensor sits, a touchpad, two tactile buttons, a micro-USB charging lead (no charger is included) and a standard 20mm hypoallergenic watch strap.

The device can be used on its own, without pairing up to the phone application, but Sunu do recommend downloading the app in order to keep the device current and up-to-date with the latest firmware updates. The app also allows you to access a variety of features, which we won’t be featuring in the review. You can download from the Apple or Google Play store here.

I did connect the Sunu with my phone and app, just so I can make sure I’m using the very latest software. It was easy to set up and get your head around the device, the layout and the features within the app.

Configuring the device

One feature I was keen to explore was the sonar configuration. Here you can adjust the range and sensitivity settings of the Sunu. You have two modes, indoor and outdoor.

The first parameter is the range, or how far out the device will look – this can be anything from 1 to 16 feet. The second parameter is the detection area – you can make 8 levels of adjustment, from narrow (level zero) to wide (level eight).

The default settings I thought were pretty bang-on – the indoor range was set at 4 feet, with level 4 width, and the outdoor range was set at 16 feet range with level 4 width.

The vibration intensity has three modes – Min, Medium and Max. I thought medium worked very well.

So, does it work?

It worked and it worked really well, accurate and fast at acquiring the obstacle.  The haptic vibration was very obvious and I thought the whole process was very intuitive.

We did a few obstacle tests and one test was a coat stand, placed right in the middle of a corridor. It measured six feet in height and an inch and a half wide. Did it locate it… yes it did, within 6 feet, giving me plenty of time to stop and re-evaluate my situation.

With some practice, finding your way through space, finding openings and clear ways is most definitely possible, giving you some deserved notice, before a cane or guide dog could.

Sunu Band

Our summary of the Sunu Band

For the right person, with the right training, this would positively support their mobility experience. We wanted to note a few things for consideration though:

  • We believe that strong mobility skills, with a cane or guide dog, are needed.
  • It is not a replacement for a cane or a guide dog, but a great companion.
  • You should practice, practice, practice in a safe environment.
  • Be mindful of shirt sleeves, jumpers and coats masking the sensor.

Just one last thing – there is an annoying alert that says ‘battery saving mode’ when you access the ‘tell the time’ mode. It doesn’t do it all the time, so it’s not the end of the world, but I contacted Sunu through the app and they got back straight away and said:

“Thank you for reaching out to us, it is a predetermined setting that cannot be changed. I’m escalating your feedback so that we can enable a button to switch ON/OFF the voice prompt of the Battery Saving Mode. Additionally, I want to let you know that you may mute the Voice Services by following the next steps:

1. Via Sunu App > My Sunu Band > Switch OFF the Voice Service toggle switch.
2. Press and hold the Navigate Button on Sunu Band.

This is great customer service!

Further support

We hope you have found this review useful. If you are interested in finding out more about the Sunu Band, please give our friends at Sight and Sound Technology a call on 01604 798070 or email info@sightandsound.co.uk

If you live in the Greater Manchester region and you would like some support with technology or mobility training, please get in touch with Henshaws on 0300 222 5555 or email info@henshaws.org.uk

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Sarah
Sarah
Sarah is the Marketing Manager with responsibility for Community Services across Greater Manchester, and the Knowledge Village.