One of our teammates has a blind cousin, and for him one of the biggest struggles is that his condition is a constant status. Even when he wants to enjoy the world around him he has to carry a white cane. He imagines that if he could see the reactions of those around him he would not feel very welcome. We set out to create a new device which would bypass this stigma by being more effective and discrete than existing white cane systems for the blind.

In addition, we sought to give the blind a new way to engage with their world. Existing solutions just sense, we wanted something which could interact.

What it does

Gourdo is a handheld ultrasonic navigation cane for the visually impaired. It uses distance sensors and vibration motors in conjunction with a headphone driver to alert the user of objects in front of them, while also allowing them to easily map out the space around them up to a distance of over ten feet! It is highly effective on the kinds of obstacles one would expect to find in the average public place, namely walls. It is also able to give good response in avoiding other safety hazards like curbs and moving objects.

In addition to the sensing capabilities, Gourdo can connect to other services through the hardware buttons on board, including to smart grid systems. This can be used, for example, to trigger walk signs on crosswalks instead of the user having to find the walk buttons in potentially dangerous intersections.

How we built it

We set out to build projects which have an impact for as many people as possible, and so we want our products to be highly affordable. The entire project was built using scrap parts from other projects, and the case itself is a recycled gourd from Thanksgiving, hand carved and crafted into a suitable enclosure for the device.

The internals consist of a Particle Photon board which is connected to an ultrasonic sensor and several buttons including a power switch. Simply "Boop the Snoot" to activate Gourdo, whose nose points in the direction of sensing. The device is also connected to the cloud in a way which allows for loved ones to keep track of the person's whereabouts and to integrate with existing smart grid infrastructure.

Challenges we ran into

One of our biggest challenges was integrating such complex electronics into a small form factor such as a gourd. The entire project was prototyped on a broadboard and then assembled in final form on a Fiberglass® protoboard. This allowed us to shave off significant size of the internals and to fit all of our functionality in the final product.

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