‘Haptic baton’ offers hope for visually impaired musicians


A conductor’s baton has been created that allows the visually-impaired to follow its movements, opening up the potential for blind people to join more orchestras.

The ‘Haptic Baton’ contains sensors that pick up even slight motions. These are then transmitted via radio signals to vibrating devices attached to musicians’ wrists or ankles.

They vibrate and buzz in different ways to indicate to the player the pace and dynamics the conductor wants.

Violinist Abie Baker, who went blind as a child due to a cataract operation, said she was confident that with the device she could start playing her instrument at the same time as others.

“In the past we’ve been reliant on hearing sounds around us. So I’ve been playing in a violin section and I’ve been reliant on hearing the other musicians putting up their instruments and then guessing roughly when to come in,” she said.

“So this is brilliant because there’s no need to count in or anything. I can literally just feel a buzz or two and then know to come in and I can come in confidently knowing that it’s right, which is amazing,” she added.

When playing as a soloist, blind pianist Kevin Satizabal said he has previously had to sit close to the conductor and listen for their breathing to know when to begin.

“But if you’re in a big orchestra and you’re miles from the conductor, that’s going to be really difficult information to pick up and this technology plugs you into the conductor’s movements,” he said.

The Human Instruments device was developed by designer Vahakn Matossian. The ‘Haptic Baton’ is a prototype being tested with musicians, including the The Paraorchestra and Friends. Its development is ongoing but Matossian hopes it will be available in 2020. REUTERS

PLAYING IT BY EAR: The baton vibrates in different ways to indicate to the player the pace and dynamics the conductor wants

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