We think a lot about glaucoma at Abraham Eye Associates, so this news item caught our eyes. A new sonar technology invented by students and professors could one day help people who suffer from blindness, which can be caused by diseases like glaucoma. The new technology is a watch that senses when a the wearer is walking near a wall and sends out a warning signal:
The idea came from biology professor William Conner, who for decades has been studying echolocation in bats and moths to learn more about the evolution of animal communication. Conner, who also is the David and Lelia Farr Professor of Innovation, Creativity, and Entrepreneurship, teaches a class called “Bio-inspiration and Biomimetics,” which looks at how animals and plants can inspire the design of new technologies.
He talked with Paul Pauca, an associate professor of computer science, who was immediately interested. A collaborative project was born. The pair assembled an interdisciplinary team of students to figure out how to put Conner’s idea into action.
“The sonar device for assisting the visually impaired is a perfect example of how my class works,” Conner said. “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.”
Here’s how it works:
The prototype is made up of several components. It is powered by an Arduino Lilypad microprocessor, runs JAVA-like code written by Janes, and is combined with the sonar distance sensors and two cellphone vibrating motors. It measures the distance of objects and provides feedback via vibrations to the user. The frequency of vibrations is proportional to the distance from the detected object, allowing the user to accurately discern an obstacle’s proximity; they get faster as it draws near.
The group is now working on a version for the market. They want to make it affordable and aesthetically pleasing. If this technology works and catches on, it could help blind people by supplementing the use of canes and service dogs.
For now, though, the best way to deal with eye problems that lead to blindness, like glaucoma, is to catch it as early as possible. Worried you might have glaucoma? Schedule an appointment today!