Fred’s Head from APH, a Blindness Blog

Fred’s Head, offered by the American Printing House for the Blind, contains tips, techniques, tutorials, in-depth articles, and resources for and by blind or visually impaired people. Our blog is named after the legendary Fred Gissoni, renowned for answering a seemingly infinite variety of questions on every aspect of blindness.

(See the end of this page for subscribing via email, RSS, browsing articles by subject, blog archive, APH resources, writing for Fred's Head, and disclaimers.)


Thursday, May 12, 2016

Throwback Thursday Object: the Pathsounder, an O&M Device from the early 1960's

Our object this week comes from our AER O&M Division C. Warren Bledsoe Archives collection.  
The Pathsounder was invented by Lindsay Russell while working with the Sensory Aids Evaluation and Development Center at MIT in the early 1960s.  It was one of the first commercially available electronic travel aids.  Russell (1927-2000) had worked on radar installations for the Signal Corps during WWII, which led to a career in engineering and work on navigational aids for people who are blind.  The first model to be field tested was Model H in 1968-69.  By 1974, the E model was being made for distribution at the three Veterans Administration Blind Rehabilitation Centers.  Worn around the neck, it was designed as a secondary aid, in addition to the use of the long cane.  It worked using sound waves, shooting them out in front and detecting them as they bounced off objects in the environment.  Emitting a sound(buzzing or beeping), or a vibration (at the chest or neck), or both, it alerted the user to objects within the field of view above and below the waist, in the direct travel path, within a distance of 6-8'.  The Pathsounder was never widely used, although it was widely tested.  Users liked it because it could be worn around the neck, which meant they always had a free hand—many other aids were handheld—and the fact that it could be set to buzz rather than just beep—so users could carry on a conversation with a companion or listen for road noises while using it.  But like many other electronic travel aids, it could not detect drop-offs, it was expensive and fragile, its feedback could be hard to interpret for the average user, and most users found they preferred “just” a cane or “just” a dog guide.


The secondary box is the battery charger.  The size and effectiveness of batteries is a secondary story in the development of ETAs that I find interesting.  The batteries in the earliest models were as large as the units themselves and weighed as much as 20 ounces.  Modern ETAs, such as the Miniguide U.S. use a disposable battery that weighs around an ounce.

This example was donated to the Bledsoe Archives by the Rehabilitation Research and Development Services Division of the Veterans Administration in 1989.

No comments:

Subscribe to receive posts via email

* indicates required

Browse Articles by Subject

Follow us on Twitter


Write for us

Your input and support in the evolution of Fred's Head are invaluable! Contact us about contributing original writing or for suggestions for updating existing articles. Email us at


The American Printing House for the Blind (APH) makes every attempt to ensure the accuracy and reliability of the data contained in the Fred's Head articles; however, APH makes no warranty, guarantee, or promise, expressed or implied, concerning the content or accuracy of the information provided in Fred's Head. APH does not endorse any technique, product, device, service, organization, or other information presented in Fred's Head, other than products and services directly offered by APH.

The products produced by the American Printing House for the Blind are instructional/teaching materials and are intended to be used by trained professionals, parents, and other adults with children who are blind and visually impaired. These materials are not intended as toys for use by children in unstructured play or in an unsupervised environment.

The information and techniques contained in Fred's Head are provided without legal consideration (free-of-charge) and are not warranted by APH to be safe or effective. All users of this service assume the risk of any injury or damage that may result from the use of the information provided.

Information in Fred's Head is not intended as a substitute for professional advice or treatment. Consult your physician before utilizing information regarding your health that may be presented on this site. Consult other professionals as appropriate for legal, financial, and related advice.

Fred's Head articles may contain links to other websites. APH is not responsible for the content of these sites.

Fred's Head articles created by APH staff are (C) copyright American Printing House for the Blind, Inc. You must request permission from APH to reprint these articles. Email to request permission.

Any submissions to Fred's Head should be free of copyright restrictions and should be the intellectual property of the submitter. By submitting information to Fred's Head, you are granting APH permission to publish this information.

Fair Use Notice: This website may contain copyrighted material whose use has not been specifically authorized by the copyright holder(s). This site is operated on the assumption that using this information constitutes 'fair use' of said copyrighted material as provided for in Section 107 of U.S. Copyright Law.

Opinions appearing in Fred's Head records are solely those of the contributor and do not necessarily reflect the views of the American Printing House for the Blind.