Entrepreneur invents new bike for the blind

NADV 1310142AM1 Dr Paul Clark Picture: Adrian Murray.  (1310142AM1)
NADV 1310142AM1 Dr Paul Clark Picture: Adrian Murray. (1310142AM1)

A revolutionary bike for the blind has been built by a Harrogate entrepreneur - and is now on display at the London Science Museum.

The Ultrabike, using bat-like sonar technology, allows blind and visually impaired to cycle on their own for the very first time.

It can only be used in a controlled environment, says inventor Dr Paul Clarke, but it will open up a wealth of opportunities.

“It’s not a miracle cure, to allow blind people to cycle to work,” he said. “But it will help blind and visually impaired people to live a full life.

“It’s revolutionary. I’ve never seen anything like it before.”

Dr Clark first designed the Ultrabike after technology used in an ‘Ultracane’ featured in Richard Hammond’s 2012 BBC documentary series Miracles.

The Ultrabike features an ultrasound sensor kit which is attached to a bike’s handlebars, warning the rider when they approach any obstacles in their path.

It would best be used in a tunnel-like or velodrome environment, said Dr Clark, and it could open up a world of opportunities to turn cycling into a Paralympic sport.

“We’ve had a lot of interest,” said the 48-year-old, from Woodlands in Harrogate. “There’s plenty of organisations that do tandem cycling.

“But there’s nothing quite like holding the handlebars yourself. The ultimate would be to have it as a Paralympic sport.”

The electronics engineer, director of Harrogate company Comms Design, works on radio-based signalling equipment for the railways in his day job.

He worked on the project as a charitable endeavour, building and creating the bike right here in the town.

Another Harrogate-based company, Sound Foresight Technology, is now working with national groups to make it more widely available, including the Royal National Institute for the Blind (RNIB) and the organisers of the Commonwealth Games.

“Really it’s the technology that’s the exciting thing,” he added. “It’s like holding a parking sensor in your hand.”

Dr Clark has been working with blind and visually impaired people to trial the bike. But the first step, he said, was to teach many of them to ride - as they had never had the chance.

“We’ve had to get a tricycle,”he said. “Some people have never had the chance to ride a bike. Others may have lost their sight but have many fond memories of cycling.

“It’s about enabling a better life experience. When you see the smiles on the faces of some of the faces of the people who have tried it, it’s really worthwhile.

“They are very brave.

“They are living their lives to the full - they just happen to be blind.”