Racing Auditory Display: Racing Games to Reach More!

Hey guys! Our friends from Racing Auditory Display have a message for every handicapped player out there :-)

Most of us strive to make the world a better place for everybody. It’s evident by the campaigns throughout the world to make every public good or entertainment option accessible to all is a part of this scheme. But still, there are many public goods and facilities that are not equally enjoyable by all.

One such not-fully-accessible-to-all facility is video gaming, especially racing games. Though racing games have been played by blind people using driver assistance systems, they have never been played by them with the same efficiency and sense of control that sighted players have.

But this condition is all set to change, thanks to the effort of Brian A. Smith, a Ph.D. candidate in computer science in the department of engineering at Columbia. Brian has developed a new audio-based user interface for visually challenged gamers, which will enable them to enjoy racing games with the same speed, control and excitement that sighted players experience.

The new audio-based interface, called the racing auditory display (RAD), can be integrated into racing video games rather easily and is set to make these games equally accessible to people who are blind. Unlike common driver assistance systems, RAD uses sonification techniques rather than speech. To be precise, RAD uses two sonification techniques, which Smith describes as ‘the “sound slider” for understanding a car’s speed and trajectory on a racetrack and the “turn indicator system” for alerting players of the direction, sharpness, length and timing of upcoming turns.’

The sound slider provides situational awareness to the user by using modulation in the sound signal. The system is designed in such a way that the sound signal will move left or right as the vehicle moves away from the centre and becomes more at risk of hitting the track’s left or right edges, respectively. So, one must steer in the opposite direction of the sound to keep the vehicle aligned with the centre of the track.

The turn indicator system uses a combination of beeps and announcement to guide the gamer through turns. Ahead of each turn, a series of four beeps alerts the player when the vehicle crosses four corresponding and equally spaced distance markers while the rhythm of the beep helps players anticipate when the turn will begin. And to help players learn the track, the system announces each upcoming turn’s number as well.

Thus, unlike the driver assistance systems that work by providing specific guidance to users, RAD works by providing just enough information to players, letting them play all by themselves. And its simplicity of implementation and user-friendliness are added advantages. Similar to how online poker changed the face of the game, racing auditory display (RAD) is expected to change the face of racing games for visually impaired people.

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