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Watch inspired by bats and moths uses sonar and vibrations to guide the blind, costs $60

Two professors at Wake Forest University enlisted the help of some students to create a watch that mimics the echolocation tactics used by bats and moths to help visually impaired wearers know when they’re getting close to an obstacle in their path. The device’s parts and materials cost about the same as a copy of Assassin’s Creed Unity.

The device, which is named HELP (Human Echo Location Partner), is biology professor William Conner’s idea, inspired by his studies of echolocation in bats and moths. After discussing the idea with associate professor of computer science Paul Pauca, they decided to assemble a crew of students with backgrounds in computer science and biology to develop the product, which is mean to supplement, not replace, canes and guide dogs.

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“We questioned how we could use this in a creative way to help blind people navigate better,” according to Jack Janes, a senior computer science major. “We each had different ideas.”

The one they eventually ran with was a watch powered by an Arduino Lilypad microprocessor and code written by Janes. It includes sonar distance sensors and a pair of vibrating cell phone motors. The device uses the sonar sensors to measure the distance of objects and uses vibrations to let the wearer know how close they are to obstacles in their way – the closer the obstacle, the faster the vibrations.

All the parts and materials for this prototype of the HELP cost less than $60. The team behind the sonar watch want to make the device smaller and more visually appealing. They also want to explore the option of adding a small solar panel to the watch, which would make it reminiscent of Casio calculator watches of the past.