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Utah teens make a vest that warns visually impaired people about objects around them

The Acti-Vest uses ultrasonic sensors and vibration motors to guide the user
Posted at 8:30 AM, Apr 04, 2021
and last updated 2021-04-04 10:31:01-04

DRAPER, Utah — There are a variety of outdoor activities people can do to stay active, but it's not always easy for everyone.

So, a group of students at Juan Diego Catholic High School took this thought and applied it to making something that could help people who are visually impaired.

The Acti-Vest uses three ultrasonic sensors and a series of vibration motors to guide people, who are visually impaired, around objects.

Two of the sensors are on the front of the vest and one of them is on the back.

Erin Chan, one of the students working on the Acti-Vest said, "The ultrasonic sensors send out waves and they calculate the distance between the wearer and the object."

How often the vibrations happen depends on how far away the wearer is from a person or an object.

The more often they vibrate, the closer the user is to an object, and the further away they are from an object the less is vibrates.

"We actually tested this with one of my teammates. She was walking towards a pole and she was able to stop in time, and it’s amazing how quick that feedback worked," said Chan.

The students also tested the Acti-Vest with a woman who has been blind since birth.

Chan said, "She was able to go skiing with it, which I think is amazing."

Acti-Vest won the $10,000 grand prize at the 2021 High School Utah Entrepreneur Challenge.

Now the team plans to use that money to make a second prototype based on the feedback they've gotten from the first one.

People who've been testing the Acti-Vest said it's harder to tell whether an object is stationary, moving towards them, or moving away from them.

The team hopes Doppler sensors, stronger vibration motors, and more complex programming can help improve that.

"I'm definitely hoping it would be something that would change people’s lives," said Chan.

The Acti-Vest team also wants to put all the circuitry and sensors onto detachable panels, so the user could swap it out with other pieces of modified clothing.