16 Year Old Indian American's 'Echolocation' Device to help Visually Impaired Navigate their Way

FREMONT, CA — Sidharth Anantha, an Indian American student at Lexington High School, has developed a pair of wearable devices that use 'Echolocation' to assist the visually impaired navigate their way around comfortably.

The inspiration behind the idea struck him on a train ride in Mumbai, India, when he saw a blind woman using her cane to manoeuvre through the crowded train. Not long after the trip, he put his mind to work. Anantha taught himself most of the technical knowledge, with the help of YouTube videos and internet research.

Anantha's devices use two different systems and are attachable to glasses and shoes. They make use of the principles of "Echolocation", a technique that also helps dolphins and bats get a sense of their surroundings. A pair of sonars emit ultrasonic waves to measure the distance between the user and the obstacles ahead. This recorded distance is then processed in an Arduino microcontroller, which sends feedback through various sounds and vibrations.

The second system employed is the object identification system, where a camera attached to the device continuously captures images of the surroundings. A deep learning neural network algorithm analyses the images to help them identify the different objects, people and even text. The two systems work together to gather information from the surroundings and translate the same back to the user.

Anantha, with the help of his brother, is trying to optimize the wearable device to recognize more diverse objects, as it is currently able to detect only the common ones.

The results look promising so far. Anantha's echolocation device has been tested by many, including Paul Parravano, co-director of the MIT Office of Government and Community Relations. By installing low-cost sensors and computers, he is trying to make it accessible to all. His ultimate goal is to enhance the design to be able to manufacture it at just $10 and make it affordable to all, giving them the ability to 'see' again.

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