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Bat-inspired tech lets blind man ride mountain bike

Dan Smith and mountain bike
Dan Smith, who is blind, stands next to a mountain bike he rode.University of Bristol

A blind college student has successfully ridden a mountain bike down a trail with the help of bat-inspired technology that provides advanced warning of obstacles in the path so the rider can steer around them.

Dan Smith lost his sight a year ago due to Leber’s Optic Neuropathy, a rare condition that leads to loss of vision when cells in the optic nerve die, causing it to stop relaying information from the eyes to brain.

His mountain bike was outfitted with a modified version of an Ultracane, which aids in mobility by emitting ultrasonic waves, the same way bats and dolphins navigate via echolocation. Tactile signals in the cane warn users of obstacles in their path.

On the bike, the handlebars vibrated when an object was close on the left or right. "I was pretty skeptical at first, coming from an engineering background, but I was blown away by how effective the bat echolocation technology was," Smith said in Bristol University news release

The mountain-biking feat was featured in an episode of the BBC program Miracles of Nature that aired in the UK on Monday. Unfortunately, the episode is currently unavailable for online viewing in the U.S. 

To learn more about Ultracane technology, check out the video below.

John Roach is a contributing writer for NBC News Digital. To learn more about him, check out his website. For more of our Future of Technology series, watch the featured video below.