Vodafone has a first: 5G technology that enables visually impaired Paralympic champion Tristan Bangma to race at a velodrome solo. The role of the pilot, with whom he ordinarily takes part in tandem events, has been taken over by two scanners on his bicycle that map the track and other riders around him. 5G is used to relay the images to an external computer where they are converted into an audio signal and sent back to Bangma’s headset. Vodafone developed the prototype especially for Bangma as part of its new 5G campaign.
The prototype enables Bangma to reach speeds of up to 50 kilometres an hour on the velodrome, despite being 99% visually impaired. That is comparable to seeing through very thick fog.
How does it work?
This incredible breakthrough has been made possible thanks to the increased speed and reduced latency (lag) of 5G. The prototype is a combination of new and existing technologies and creates a unique experience for visually impaired cyclists like Bangma. Two LiDAR scanners, similar to radar, on the front and rear of the bicycle map the velodrome and the relative location of the other cyclists. The resulting 2D image of the track is then sent through the 5G network to a computer, which converts it into a 3D environment and subsequently into an 8D audio signal - a real-life version of surround sound. That signal is then sent back in real time to Bangma, who hears the sound of bicycles close to him through in-ear pods. The sound enables him to orientate himself on the track and anticipate on the position and movements of other riders. All this happens in a fraction of a second. The speed and stability of the 5G network are crucial to the process.
“Being able to race on track independently again was one of my biggest dreams. The fact that technology would enable me to do so is something I thought impossible until recently. After the first test, however, I became very enthusiastic, and to be able to effortlessly lap the velodrome today is absolutely fantastic! I look forward to seeing what the further development of 5G is going to make possible for us all in the future,” says Bangma.
Vodafone’s new campaign aims to show the general public the kind of amazing solutions that 5G is making possible. The bicycle on which Bangma rides is a prototype that proves that technological innovation advances people. Similar technology is expected to help the visually impaired navigate the smart cities of the future independently. 5G is an important catalyst for such innovations.
“Vodafone embraces the future in the firm belief that through connectivity, we can create a better world. As pioneers in our industry, we study new technologies and applications and the role our network can play in these developments. The aim of the campaign is to show Dutch consumers what current technologies are capable of already. Tristan is proof that dreams and ambitions are boundless. We are extremely proud to be able to use our network to help him realise his dream,” says Marcel de Groot, consumer market director at VodafoneZiggo.
The 5G technology used by Bangma is being transmitted to the Dutch disabled sports foundation Fonds Gehandicaptensport. “We want to see the prototype in action at events, so that everybody can experience for themselves what this kind of technology makes possible for athletes with a disabilities,” explains Nike Boor, the director of the foundation.
Fonds Gehandicaptensport aims to make sport part of everyday life for everyone with a disability by 2030. Boor: “We still have ten years to achieve that objective, but at the same time, that’s just ten years. It is therefore important to accelerate efforts to overcome the barriers people with disabilities encounter. This innovative technology developed by Vodafone enables us to do just that, as it helps visually impaired people participate in sports independently. It is proof that technological innovation advances people and brings them together. Doing things based on what is possible, greatly appeals to us.”