Sonar-assisted human navigation

STEM incubator students have developed a device inspired by bat sonar to help those with visual impairment. “We were inspired by bat sonar, we learned about it, and then we used it to develop a new product. The students took the idea and made it happen,” their professor has noted.

Student-driven project

Jack Janes, a senior computer science major; Dominic Prado, a senior biology major; and Ran Chang, a sophomore computer science major, began brainstorming during the first STEM incubator meeting of the Fall 2014 semester.

“The vision of the STEM incubator is to pair upperclassmen from possibly different science fields together with undeclared freshman and sophomores,” Pauca said. “One of the goals is to foster horizontal relationships between students, meaning that they are learning from each other, but also vertical relationships with their faculty mentors.”

The student trio didn’t waste any time. They joke that they started by tying strings and duct tape together, but clarified their approach when online research uncovered a sonar distance sensor. “We questioned how we could use this in a creative way to help blind people navigate better,” Janes said. “We each had different ideas.”

They eventually focused on developing a device that could be worn like a watch by a visually-impaired person as a supplement to other aids like a cane or dog.

“We decided on the watch because it’s small,” said Prado, who came up with a clever name for it: HELP, the Human Echo Location Partner. “We all think this a really cool device that could help a lot of people.”

Prado got involved with the project because of his interest in ophthalmology and eyecare. He’s applying to medical schools and approached Conner about doing some research with him.

“He said he had the perfect research task for me and that’s how I got involved,” Prado said. “It’s been out of my comfort zone a little bit, but I’ve had a great team and enjoyed working on this.”

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