Design Con 2015

Ultrasonic shoe sensors help the visually impaired

-October 10, 2013

We've all see those white canes that some people with visual impairments use. They click them on things and listen to, as well as feel, their environment. Denver Dias, as part of his undergraduate studies, set out to create a new interface to help with environmental awareness for those who cannot see.

His concept was to move the obstacle detection out of the hands of the person. He is accomplishing this by mounting an array of ultrasonic sensors around some tennis shoes. The concept behind this prototype is that any obstacle will be detected and a physical notice will be given to the wearer in real time.

For the physical feedback, Denver has made some vibrating boxes that you put in your pockets. An Arduino polls the ultrasonic sensors and provides feedback via the boxes. This completely frees up the user's hands for other tasks.

While the prototype has a ways to go, such as weatherproofing and detection of obstacles that are placed higher vertically than the sensors can detect, this is an interesting concept that might bear further research. Imagine if these were fully integrated into the shoe, and at least served to provide one more sense to the wearer.

Speaking of sensing and sensors, don't forget to enter the TI Sensing Design Challenge 2013. The $3,000 grand prize would be enough for your own ultrasonic shoes!

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