Mechanical engineering students Alyssa Taylor and Joseph Lahmann decided to create an electronic vehicle for the visually impaired as part of their mechatronics education project. What these students did not expect was that they would create an innovative tool that would place them among the six finalist teams in a highly competitive undergraduate design competition that is part of the American Society of Mechanical Engineers’ Conference on Biomechanics, Biotransport, and Bioengineering.
Currently, most visually impaired people rely on external forces to help them behave safely, the most common of which is a guide, a dog, or a white cane. Lahmann and Taylor wanted to create a device for independence, which was sorely lacking in the market. They also wanted it to be discreet and hands-free.
“Each year, I challenge students to think about building devices that meet local, regional, and global needs,” says Associate Professor of Mechanical Engineering Miles Canino, Ph.D. “Alissa and Joseph came to me with the idea of making a guidebook that could convey visual and spatial information to the visually impaired.”
They created a belt device that a person wears on the stomach, under clothing, and a strap around the neck. The strap contains two LiDAR scanning devices that constantly rotate and scan up to eight feet and 30 frames per second around a person. When it senses an object and its proximity in front of a person, it sends out a signal to the ten motors contained in the belt. The strap then creates tactile feedback on the person’s abdomen to indicate that there is something in the person’s path. How close an object is to a person depends on the intensity of the feeling and where they feel the sensation on their body.
Lahmann and Taylor created an electronic travel aid in ten weeks, an impressive amount of time considering it’s not currently what the medical device market is. The few electronic vehicles available for the visually impaired are portable devices. These devices have a higher failure rate (because they are operated by a human) and are expensive. Students are proud to have invented something that can really change the quality of human life.
“Many visually impaired people feel isolated in society because they have to rely on something that makes them stand out, like a cane or a dog,” says Taylor, 2022 graduate. “That’s why we came up with the concept of stealth. In addition, you lose the ability to use your hand with a dog, a person, or a cane. With our device, they have the ability to use both hands.”
Both students admit that this type of project, which helps people in real life, is extremely useful.
“Working on something you care about is a really important factor,” says Lahmann, who is moving into his senior year. “Doctor. In this regard, Canino is very reassuring.”