New device helps legally blind girl walk unaided

Posted at 9:40 AM, Dec 17, 2015

CINCINNATI -- A group of robotics students at St. Xavier High School are helping a legally blind student walk unaided thanks to a high-tech new device.

RobotX team members Evan Bretl and Tyler Stagge, with the help of team moderator/physics teacher John D’Alessandro, created the device for legally blind Erlanger, Ky., student Alyssa Roberts.

The device is called “ENADD” or Electronic Navigation Assistant with Drop off Detections. It took the team a year to engineer and almost never happened.

Roberts was born with visual and physical developmental issues and has to use a walker to get around. She also needs someone to guide her down school hallways because she cannot see anything but the objects closest to her – and even then only as dark or light shadows.

Her therapy team suggested that Roberts might be able to walk unaided if she could sense obstacles in her way.

Roberts’ physical therapist, Nancy Krumm-Richardson, contacted the non-profit May We Help to see if they could find a solution. According to St. Xavier, May We Help is a group of former engineers that create custom solutions for people with special needs.

Because of Roberts’ challenges, she can’t use canes to feel objects in her path or drop offs such as curbs.

May We Help approached several local schools and colleges to see what could be created to help Roberts. However, everyone had to turn down the project due to workload issues.

Eventually, Roberts’ therapy team and May We Help was able to link up with RobotX and start work on the project. It took about a year, but by Nov. 24, the team was ready to try to install the ENADD on Roberts’ walker.

The device consists of two sensor arrays near the wheels of the walker, two more on the handles, a command box on the midsection and headphones that plug into the command box. The sensors act as “eyes” for Roberts’ walker and can beep at her to let her know if she’s close to an object.

The beeps will pick up in intensity and strength to help her navigate as she moves along.

It took a couple hours of testing and installation, but the team was able to get Roberts up and running in her new “wheels” on her own.

Despite the success of the device, the RobotX team said they are already working on the ENADD II. It will have improved drop off detection and will fit on a new walker that May We Help made for Roberts.