This DIY sonar-assisted wearable helps the blind navigate

Students design a new wearable to help the blind get around, serving as a supplement to aids like canes or guide dogs.

While Batman may rely on projections in the night’s sky to get around, actual bats refer to echolocation to hear and communicate with one another. This concept inspired a team from Wake Forest University to devise a slick sonar device to help the visually-impaired navigate around much more easily.


Led by professors William Conner and Paul Pauca, the Makers created an Arduino LilyPad (ATmega168V) powered wrist-worn device, aptly named HELP (the Human Echo Location Partner), that would help those who are blind get around, serving as a supplement to commonplace aids like canes or guide dogs.

Based on the e-textile Arduino platform, the wearable device runs JAVA-like code, and features sonar distance sensors responsible for measuring the distance of objects and relaying this data to two smartphone vibrating motors. The frequency of vibrations is proportional to the distance from the detected object. In other words, the closer the detected object, the faster the motors vibrate.


In order to test their prototype, the team turned to a fellow student, who happens to be blind and walks about campus with a guide dog by her side. After initial use, the sophomore classmate found that it was very useful in helping her to determine whether the doors of buildings and classrooms were open or closed.

Seeing as it is still only in the proof-of-concept phase, next steps for the team include fine-tuning the device to make it smaller, more attractive, and of course, affordable. In fact, all of their parts and materials cost less than $60!

It’s certainly exciting to see how HELP impressively converged the natural GPS of bats with next-gen, Atmel based technology, all for a great cause. That’s what we call making a difference!

2 thoughts on “This DIY sonar-assisted wearable helps the blind navigate

  1. Pingback: Rewind: 25 must-know wearables from 2014 | Bits & Pieces from the Embedded Design World

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