Bat Sonar Device Helps the Visually Impaired to Navigate – PSFK


Unlike Batman, bats don’t rely on projections in the sky to tell them where to go; they navigate by calling and judging where the sounds echo off objects. This sound-based system inspired a team at

The idea was sparked by biology professor William Conner, who studies bats and moths to learn about the evolution of animal communication. He runs a course called ‘Bio-inspiration and Biomimetics’ which started him thinking about the potential of a bat sonar system in a digital device. Conner teamed up with associate professor of computer science Paul Pauca, to bring together an interdisciplinary team of students to explore this concept.

The sonar device for assisting the visually impaired is a perfect example of how my class works. 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.

The team consists of Jack Janes, a senior computer science major; Dominic Prado, a senior biology major; and Ran Chang, a sophomore computer science major.

The trio decided to create a device that would help blind people to navigate and act as a supplement to aids such as a cane or guide dog. Prado came up with the name of HELP (the Human Echo Location Partner) for the wrist-worn gadget.

The HELP prototype is powered by an Arduino Lilypad micropad microprocessor, which runs JAVA-like code written by Janes. It features sonar distance sensors which measure the distance of objects and transmit this information to two cellphone vibrating motors. The closer the detected object, the faster the motors vibrate.

The team asked sophomore Kathryn Webster, a blind student who usually navigates with the help of her guide dog, to try the HELP out. Testing it without her guide dog, Webster found that it was very useful in helping her to determine whether the doors of buildings and classrooms were open or closed.

Curated from Bat Sonar Device Helps the Visually Impaired to Navigate – PSFK