Rock Climbing for the Vision Impaired

It is estimated there are 575 000 people in Australia blind or visually imapred in 2020, this massive demographic of individuals are severely impacted through the limitations they face surrounding recreational sports and physical activities. Exercise has a crucial impact to healthy living, having a wide range of positive mental and physical effects on individuals. I intend to produce a sound activated climbing system, allowing visually imaired individuals to hear via audio based ques where the holds are placed and where the limbs are to be moved being an accessible recreational sport. I'm seeking technological and opinionated advice towards the project.
What do you think?

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Pascal @ 2021.05.02 10:16 AM

Hi Gene,

as rock climber and director of the SMART infrastructure Facility (University of Wollongong), I’m happy for our team to brainstorm on your project...:-)



R Hainsworth @ 2021.05.03 10:16 AM

A brilliant concept Gene. I can only imagine the incredible challenges someone would face doing simple sports. At the same time I am thinking this would be a whole new sensation for someone who was visually impared. 

I am not sure if you are on LinkedIn but your idea has been picked up and shared in there. Lots of people excited about it, 30 likes and 12 comments so far. 

The amazing thing about IdeaSpies platform is that there are so many wonderful people scanning the ideas that get POSTED and they love to share them with their business and industry networks. 

Great work, I can't wait to see your project come alive. What would you do if someone gave you $1000 to spend on your project?

Gene @ 2021.05.05 10:16 AM

Thank you Pascal, I would greatly appreciate feedback from your teams brainstorm. 

Gene @ 2021.05.05 10:16 AM
Thank you R Hainsworth for the encouraging and kind feedback, Im not currently on LinkedIn but im defiently going to get envolved and view all the comments that have been made. if someone gave me $1000 for my project i would futher develop my desgin and hopefully implement it into climbing gyms around Australia.

Gene @ 2021.05.05 6:39 AM
Pascal I also wanted to add that at the moment the main challenge I'm facing surrounds the technology used to consistently detect weather the climbing hold is being held, as it has to fit inside the climbing hold, use little electricity, and be within a reasonable price range.

GreetingCardSalesman @ 2021.05.05 6:39 AM

I love this idea, Gene,

At first I thought it was braille numbers on the handholds, then I looked more carefully and understood. Have you considered having the ability to select levels of commentary from very detailed and encouraging to hints or reminders for the experienced climber? Or an insulting voice over like John Cleese or untrustworthy one like GlaDOS from portal for those who like to laugh while they cimb?

good luck, I am curious what the target market think.

GreetingCardSalesman @ 2021.05.05 6:39 AM

Hmm, Gene, does it have to detect whether it is being held, or a hand is near it? A voice that says 'warmer, warmer, .." would tickle my sense of humour. 

If you wanted haptic rather than auditory content, and had a signal receiver on the climbers gloves that buzzed a little as it got closer to weak and static signal output might be helpful.  

Gene @ 2021.05.05 6:39 AM
Hi GreetingCardSalesman, I like what your thinking, it sounds humorous although I have established that for the sound being emitted from the holds motor vibrators would be the most suitable equipment as it requires little energy and can be easily fitted inside the climbing hold as size constraint is a large issue, it can also easily be detachable from inside the hold, also being important as every month at most climbing holds need to be power washed and soaked to remove the clotted chalk from the holds as they loose textural grip after awhile. the detachability is also important as it would be suitable if my design could be attachable to varies holds. in terms of range of difficulty, that will be determined through which holds get buzzed, as a hold further away may be the next move, although the method to determine difficulty is still something I need to clearly figure out. also the glove idea could work thanks for your help I will investigate that idea further. 

GreetingCardSalesman @ 2021.05.05 6:39 AM
oh, first, ew, yuck, I did not know that about the chalk, second, my apologies as I still don't understand your plan.  I was making guesses from the pictures and was thinking of things like an ear piece tuned to a broadcast channel for that wall that activated the relevant clue when you waved your hand past a block, much like when you go to an art gallery you can select the audio description you want to hear if you like a specific painting.  It sounds like your plan is to have the weight on a rock activate a series of options to make sounds.  Perhaps then there could  even be different tones for difficulty? maybe time delayed for each difficulty so there is time to hear the options? No idea, just having fun imagining all the ways this could work and how it would be fund for the user.

Gene @ 2021.05.05 6:39 AM
yes GreetingCardSalesman there are defiantly a lot of interesting variables affecting how my design will function, cant wait to piece them together and experiment my self :)

Pascal @ 2021.05.05 6:39 AM

Hi Gene,

Like GreetingCardSalesman, our team thought that haptic feedback system coupled to ultra sonic sensors to detect hold's location. Climbing gyms are often very noisy and audio cues aren't ideal. Besides, verbal or simple sound cues corresponding to at least three or four contact points might be overwhelming. four small haptic receptors (two wrist ones and two ankle ones) can provide much clearer information to the climber.

Your point about regular cleaning of rock faces is essential! it makes me think you should try to avoid placing any sensor on/into holds. haptic sensors could be informed by pre-recorded high res 3D mapping of the rock face. Routes could be predetermined according to climbing experience. Another approach could be to use AR technology whereby haptic sensors are informed in real time by (automated) video analysis of the climb.

Anyway, two things to keep in mind, regardless of the technological solution:

1) in climbing gyms/caves, rock faces are jam packed with holds corresponding to intertwined routes of various grades. How will system indicate to climber that he/she's grabbing the right hold?

2) climbing is an art and same climb can be achieved through very different sequence of moves and holds, depending on experience, morphology or even 'feeling'. How can your system still provide this sense of 'freedom' and creativity that most climbers enjoy?



Cass @ 2021.05.12 6:39 AM

Hey, cool idea! As someone who is blind (although not a rock climber) I thought I'd chime in here.

I am leaning towards some sort of wearable device with haptic feedback being the best option here. If you were relying on sounds emitting from the holds, I worry that you wouldn't be able to tell where to put your feet. It would be easy enough (I assume) to hear the sound to tell me where to put my hands, but when the sound would be coming from below my head it would be hard to judge the distance and direction. I hope this makes sense. Someone else mentioned about devices on your wrists and ankles which could vibrate. This sounds like it is heading in the right direction to me, although how you tell the climber where to move the vibrating limb I don't know...

I also wondered about an app. The climber could select the level of difficulty they want, and then wear a headset to receive audible directions such as "move your left foot approximately 50 cm up and 20 cm right". Something like that. Perhaps it could incorporate a verbal prompt to go to the next step (something like hey Siri). So when I have moved my left foot and am ready for the next direction I could just ask "Hey climb buddy, next step". As I mentioned, I am not a climber, but you usually have a spotter who remains on the ground right? Another possibility could be that the spotter presses a button which makes the app announce the next step once the climber is ready. This would also avoid the need to remove the sensors for washing, but may involve a lot more work than you were expecting. Food for thought anyway!

Good luck!

PS: I would super love it if you could use the phrase "vision impaired" rather than "visually impaired" as this is the correct term in Aus! No biggie though.`

Gene @ 2021.05.12 6:39 AM
Thank you Pascal for your advice and sorry for the late reply. I am unsure about the use of a haptic feed back system. As climbings difulculty and freedom like you were talking about mostly relies on the proccess of making the move, as you can choose as to which way you will make the move (dino, palm press, dynamic, static, heel hook, etc) i feel as though if you have a vibrator in the hand getting strong when your hand moves closer to a hold you will not have a determined move to reach that hold, instead you will be attempting to find the position of the hold, making climbing a harder process and limiting creativity. What do you think? 

Gene @ 2021.05.12 6:52 AM
Thanks Cass, they are some really good and helpful ideas. thank you for educating me on the term vision impaired and the concerns of sound ques from below your body. I will experiment with these ideas on the rockclimbing wall whilst blindfolded having a person giving me ques and also them tapping holds to see what methods are affective.

Wombat @ 2021.06.02 7:05 AM

Hi Gene, 

I am currently in year 12 and am undertaking my year 12 major major project. I identified vision impaired climbing as the problem I would try and solve and am currently building my solution which differs from yours in many ways. If you would like to chat about my findings I would be more then happy to!



Nuella @ 2021.06.04 7:05 AM
I look forward to the results of your experimentation and testing Gene.

Gene @ 2021.06.09 7:05 AM

Hi Zac, it would be awesome to talk about our projects, thanks Gene 

you can email me on the following email

R Hainsworth @ 2021.06.21 5:25 PM

Hi there Gene. Hope your project is going well. Wondering if you and Zac have had a chance to connect and discuss your projects. Would love to hear how you are both going and if you have had a chance to collaborate. 

Great that you are both benefiting from Cass's comment. 


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