Electronic guide for the blind "Elektrosonar"

    The other day, the news about the creation of a prototype baseball cap device for blind people was discussed on a hubr . Since I have been dealing with this problem for almost a year and have written a diploma on this subject, I would like to offer my opinion on solving the problem of people with disabilities. The article will be interesting not only for IT professionals, but also for entrepreneurs, as well as people interested in the issue of disability.

    The first idea of ​​creating a device came to me when microcontrollers began to be studied at the institute. Incredibly I wanted to stop coding examples with LEDs, PWMs and other initialization of microcontrollers, and do something cool and useful, in real life. I decided to put a home-made parking sensors on my car, having mounted it in the front bumper (it was already in the back, and in the front, in Moscow, it is often useful). He assembled a circuit on his knee on an arduino mini, played around, quenched his thirst.

    Concept and prototype

    By nature, I am an entrepreneur, in the piggy bank I already had successful experience in creating and selling social-oriented web projects (including cooperation with Yandex). Just a few days later, an idea was born in my head on the commercialization and mass production of my parking sensors, but in a completely different application - in the field of assistance to people with disabilities.
    Statistics on prevalence of the visually impaired
    According to the World Health Organization, there are about 37 million blind people and 124 million visually impaired around the world.
    According to some reports, the number of registered blind and visually impaired in Russia is 218 thousand people, of which absolutely blind are 103 thousand. However, accurate statistics cannot be found even from unofficial statistics in Russia from 1.84 to 4.96 million visually impaired people, from 610 to 780 thousand of them are completely blind. Read more »
    By 2020, the number of blind people in the world may increase to 75 million people (according to the UN ).

    In a few days, he assembled the first prototype using everyone's favorite mini version of the arduino. It didn’t look very good, but it was quite enough for the first field trials of the real blind.

    And in the “assembled” form:

    For more serious tests, a second prototype was created, in a rigid case and already with a battery:

    Test results

    Tests on the blind were very successful. Such frank joy and delight that overwhelmed the disabled, I saw only among young children at the age of kindergarten, who were given the "best in the world" gift for the holiday. One young guy with a disability put on the device and just ran away with it while we were discussing the usefulness of the invention =) We found it on another street, across the highway from the original location. The guy really liked the device, for the first time in his life he felt what it means to move along the street himself, without help and even without a cane. It is difficult for us, who see, to understand this, but probably it is like a long but wonderful recovery of people after an injury that deprived them of the opportunity to walk and feel like a full-fledged person. Also, the device proved to be excellent when tested in people of advanced age.
    It was decided to continue development, in addition, promising thesis began to emerge.


    For a couple of weeks, he studied the Runet and the foreign part of the network and found out (like the author of the article about a baseball cap) that in the world there are mainly prototypes of such devices ( one , two , three ), and literally several implemented options that differ at a rather high price ( four - £ 300, five - £ 635). I heard about similar developments in the Soviet Union and in Russia, but could not find anything. All found concepts used various types of communication with a disabled person, but mainly through sound.

    Technical part

    Then began a dense work on the study of communication methods and human impact.
    It turned out to be a very broad topic.
    Electronic signaling devices are widely used in workshops in factories of many industries. One of the most important needs for signaling devices is the feedback to the operator that the desired result has been achieved by one machine or another. Almost all signaling devices on the market contain a sound alarm warning about the achieved result. In addition, some devices contain visual signaling mechanisms, such as light bulbs of various colors (usually red, yellow and green). In noisy environments or places where the tool is used in conditions of limited visibility of its user interface, it is possible that none of these alarms is sufficient to notify the operator. A suitable solution to this problem is to to combine visual and sound methods of warning the operator with tactile signaling, through vibration. The benefit of vibration feedback is well known to anyone using a mobile phone.
    Quote from my thesis

    And a comparison of the found methods of signaling in the context of the limited capabilities of a blind person. The guys from the Department of Neuropsychology of Moscow State University enlightened me on the pros and cons of a particular signaling method, advised the necessary literature. He studied in detail about a dozen books on psychology, bionics, research on the blind, as well as animals (especially about dolphins and bats), watched several feature films (I advise everyone about the film about the blind musician of all time Ray Charles). When I was in Germany and France at the presentation of the device, he walked around the city with a blindfold and a prototype of the device, which caused intense interest and delight among the surrounding public =)
    As a result, I came to the conclusion that it is most sensible to use tactile feedback and “not to clog” the auditory canal, because blind people are guided mainly by hearing, picking up the echo from the base of the heels and thus evaluating the distances in the surrounding world. In addition, the feedback of the human body to an external stimulus is the fastest when using tactile channels (the slowest way, oddly enough, through vision). We will use vibration as an effect. Although there were other options that did not fit because of the characteristics of the human psyche. For example, a person quickly gets used to the constant external monotonous effect - to a little pressure or compression on parts of the body. As well as to the constant monotonous loud sound (we all know how to fall asleep in airplanes or buses, ceasing to hear the noise of the motor). The so-called adaptation to external noise.

    Meanwhile, electronic filling was chosen. It will be a board of its own manufacture (as Arduino takes up a lot of space), sensors (ultrasound + infrared) and a battery:

    On the atmega88 board (or atmega168 like on an arduino), a set of microchips for charging the battery and controlling the electric motor, a pulse voltage converter, sound tweeter and stuff. This whole thing was calculated and tested with oscilloscopes, etc. (up to the rationale for choosing transistors), thesis =) It was ordered at a factory in China, very cheap and in quality. The board is double-sided, size 24x48mm, SMD components (size 0603), the indent between the tracks in some places is 0.15 mm. For the quality of soldering, do not throw tomatoes, for the first time I soldered such a trifle, without a normal station and with terrible solder:

    Then the concept of the case was created:

    Coprus is attached to the hand on a strap, in the area of ​​the wrist (back of the hand). A silver tablet with a strap on the bottom - a vibration motor for communication with the person. On the case there are a couple of buttons (on-off, near-far modes), a socket for a plug from the power supply for battery damage. And of course, two cute eyes, almost a hero from the touching cartoon Valley =)

    The first real prototype, printed on a 3D printer, turned out to be a bit worse than the concept, but everything has its time:

    Characteristics of the developed device and principle of operation

    The device is worn on the hand, according to the principle of an ordinary flashlight. Having found an obstacle, Electrosonar gives a vibration signal of different intensity and duration (depending on the distance to the obstacle). Directing the device in different directions, you can get a clear picture of the surrounding obstacles, such as curbs, steps, walls. Several operating modes are provided, both for small, enclosed spaces (an apartment), and for use in an open, "street" space.
    • Range of detection of obstacles - up to 7 meters;
    • Weight - less than 150 grams;
    • Size - no more than 7x7x3.5 centimeters (LxWxH);
    • Battery life - more than 4 hours;
    • Temperature operation - up to -30 degrees;
    • Food - from the built-in battery, charger included.

    Participation in exhibitions, international travel, dating

    He managed to take part in the Moscow Region exhibition, met with the former governor of the region, B. Gromov, and was even awarded with some diplomas.

    And as I noted above, I visited Germany, Frankfurt, they have a cool museum where everyone can feel blind for a couple of hours, think about the difficulties of life in the dark, wander through the mazes and even visit a “blind” lunch.

    A very cool way to spend one of the free days off for the whole family, which contributes to the understanding that there are other people around you with disabilities, with a completely different lifestyle and habits. It is a pity there is still no such thing in Russia. The director of the museum, by the way, is blind.
    Also was in France, in Strasbourg. The first questions were, oddly enough, about safety and contraindications (will people have allergies to the material of which the device consists, etc.). At the same time, neither Frankfurt nor Strasbourg saw such devices yet, which was a big surprise for me.
    Relations with the main Moscow department of the blind were pretty cool from the start. “There is already something similar, you have not invented anything interesting, we have long known about similar devices.” However, even in the Moscow Region branches of the Blind Society, the device turned out to be a discovery for everyone.

    Economic part, commercialization and difficulties

    He successfully defended his diploma (MISiS), began to think about how to bring the device to the series. Economic calculations showed that the cost of the device is about 1700 rubles. apiece, which is generally excellent performance compared to competitors. He made a proposal to several large enterprises (Noginsky Scientific Production Center “Pribor” CJSC and Moscow OJSC “Radio Engineering Concern“ Vega ”). Everywhere he was very warmly welcomed, everyone became interested and started working with me. But to date, there are no results. In the first case, there was no special initiative, all actions were expected from me, a freshly released engineer without experience and practice in organizing production. They have been thinking in the second concern for a couple of months. The only most interested at the moment are business youth from Business Youth.

    In the course of work, I realized that it is very difficult to pull such a project on yourself. Starting production turned out to be a difficult issue, there are many pitfalls, for example, with patenting, certification, distribution, distribution, warranty-repair-return. In addition, I have already spent a decent amount of my own funds on the entire project (thanks to previous projects that created some kind of financial pillow), which tend to end =)
    Over time, there are also difficulties - I'm getting ready to pass the international English exam and enter the European Master's program / graduate school. In parallel, I’m conducting another project that, unlike the device, makes a profit in the short term, and somehow with its help I close the appetite of the voracious device =)


    As a result, the device turned out to be simple, cheap and compact, and at the same time it is an excellent assistant for the disabled person. Although not without flaws, they said to me at the diploma: “The disadvantage of this device is simplicity. Which, on the other hand, is its main competitive advantage. ” And while the doubters are discussing the shortcomings of the presented “lack of suspicion,” comparing this method with complex video recognition systems for images, devices based on microsoft kinect ( kinect for the blind ), or with implantable chips, the disabled people are delighted in the meantime (I already got more a dozen requests for a quick purchase of the device, without any advertising at all). Understand the main thing, for modern disabled people there is no such opportunity to have at least an elementary idea of ​​the surrounding space at a distance greater than the length of the cane.

    To date, the project is in a semi-frozen state. For mass production, some technical improvements are needed (especially the cases, the designer and the designer are not very good from me). Therefore, I am looking for any help and like-minded people. Both technically and organizationally, in commercialization.
    There are thoughts to go to the Chinese, offer them my development and establish joint production entirely with them (and not just boards, as it is now). Then the device will cost a penny altogether. But for now these are just thoughts.
    UPD: A simple site already exists and was: sites.google.com/site/electrosonarru

    Thanks to the distinguished habrasociety for your attention. I will be glad to hear any ideas, advice, suggestions and recommendations.

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