Basketball for blind athletes

A group of biomedical engineering graduates in Argentina designed a board with sound and sensors that gives athletes greater autonomy in the game. It is an open source project that can be freely downloaded and replicated.

Blind athletes play basketball with the new designed board / UNCiencia

May 26, 2020 – Basketball adapted for the blind has some differences with the traditional variant. The teams are made up of three members, the hoop is 45 centimetres lower (2.6 metres), the players must ask the referee to “enable” them to shoot the hoop and the points are not counted as doubles or triples, but in single point goals.

Spacing works as follows: a person with vision places himself under the board and systematically hits with a stick so that athletes knew where he was and could direct their throws. When the ball passes close by, the shots became more intense and intermittent.

“With that homemade solution that they used at the Manuel Belgrano school – where we started to think about this idea – the coach kept hitting the hoop with a stick. It also indicated to the players their position on the court, looked for the ball if it stopped biting and pointed out how the shot went. They completely depended on it and the game was hampered,” describes Pablo Balderrama, one of the biomedical engineers, a  graduate from the National University of Córdoba (UNC), who promoted the project.

Through a qualitative study, the authors of the initiative conducted a survey with blind players, a team of coaches and assistants to collect information.

Those who practice sport expressed three specific needs. First, a device that emits a sound at a constant cadence (rhythm) of approximately one second, to know the location of the hoop. Second, an impact detection system that accurately indicates where the ball bounced off the backboard. And finally, a system that recognizes when the ball entered the hoop and emits a signal of sound

Together, all the requirements seek to increase the independence of the player and decrease the work done by the guide.

“After these responses, we noted that the basketball for the blind is still in development and that we could provide more effective technological elements in terms of hoop location, recognition of the limits of the court and feedback on shots, which allow a dynamic of Real game following the basketball rules for the blind. Adaptation finally gives accessibility to an activity as significant as team sport”, explains Diego Beltramone, project manager and one of the managers of Open Source Assistive Technology Projects (POSTA), the platform on which this project is hosted and much others.

How is the backboard

The device developed for the backboard was designed for the training stage. It consists of a controller board based on Arduino technology – commercial microcontrollers commonly used in robotics courses for children – capable of reproducing sound at a constant rate to guide the player on the location of the ring or the basketball hoop.

One fact to note is that the sound generated was agreed between the players, since it is an important element: the players must be able to clearly identify it during the game without it becoming annoying. After investigating and working on this theme, it was decided to reproduce the same sound as the blow of the stick against the board, as a matter of habit.

To identify the area where the ball bounces before a shot, they also incorporated “hit sensors” in five strategic places on the board. “For example: if the ball hits the top right, an automatic voice says ‘bottom left’, in order to indicate to the player where to aim his next shot ” describes Balderrama.

Finally, an ultrasonic sensor located in the ring is in charge of recognizing the annotations, without the need for the ball to make physical contact with it. In essence, this device measures distances and when the ball passes 15 centimetres or less from the sensor, it is assumed that it entered the net. With each entry, a high-pitched, key sound is automatically emitted to signal the point.

With this new development, initially installed at the UNC-dependent Manuel Belgrano Higher School of Commerce, players feel that basketball for the blind has gone one step further. “The players tell us that through the proposed technologies they feel more autonomous, as they do not have to depend on a person who is permanently available to them,” concludes Beltramone.

How the project continues

Currently another group of Biomedical Engineering students, led by Alejo Barrio, took “the post.” They continue to develop this project but with the purpose of improving the current version and contemplating the conditions of players in a competitive situation, since the needs when playing games are different from those of training. In this case, two boards with different sounds are needed and they alternate intelligently when issuing sound alerts.

This blind basketball board can be freely found and downloaded on the POSTA platform. It is a site that links people with disabilities to creators of assistive technologies.

It is an open source project web portal that groups and organizes sketches, plans and instructions ready to replicate, adapt or create technological solutions aimed at improving the quality of life of people with disabilities.

The initiative is from an interdisciplinary team of professionals from the Faculty of Exact, Physical and Natural Sciences, and from the School of Kinesiology and Physiotherapy, both from the National University of Córdoba, in collaboration with the Università Iuav di Venezia (Italy).

Bohemia, Cuba from the IberoAmerican Agency for the Diffusion of Science and Technology. Translation by Google from the Spanish.

Note

The National University of Córdoba, founded in 1613, is the oldest university in Argentina, the fourth oldest in South America and the sixth oldest in Latin America.

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