December, 2018: Manning Whitby – prototype navigation device

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Ian opened the meeting. Manning is joining us to describe his research project, and we’ll share information.

Jason described CNIB’s Phone it Forward program. CNIB is soliciting donations of phones, which will be converted to phones that will be given to clients for their personal use. If you have an old phone, you can get a tax receipt for it. The goal is to start giving out phones next year. You can go to for more information. Jason gets a perk if they go through his hands. They’ll take anything 4S or better, distributed phones will be 6S or better. They’ll take some Android phones and iPads.

Manning began by thanking us for welcoming him. He wants a range of opinions on his work. He’s a Grade 12 student. He’s designing and prototyping a device to aid the visually impaired. It consists of a wearable device on the chest, and a feedback system giving information about measurements of objects around you. Vibrating coin-like objects are warn on a belt around the waist. Obstacles closer vibrate more strongly. An object toward the right will vibrate on the right of your body.

Manning’s interest is in improving multi-sensory feedback for all people. Although the white cane is the most accessible and simple device for mobility, it doesn’t easily lend itself to mapping the space around you. This prototype is meant to provide a quiet alternative that works well in a crowded or quiet environment. Data will be collected through participation and interviews. Short roots and mazes will be employed to test the effectiveness of the device. Understanding the reactions and behaviours of participants will help to improve the prototype.

At this point in his educational path, there are few resources for developing and improving the technology. Research data will inform future models. University will vastly increase his access to resources and funding.

The device is for use with a cane or guide dog. Manning passed around a 3D printed model of the chest pack, which would have a strap around your back. The goal is 160 degrees of sensitivity. The feedback vibration is an oval shape with multiple vibrating sections to give horizontal and vertical feedback. There’s a thin cable that goes under your shirt, connecting the sensor unit to the feedback unit. The belt has two parts, the cotton shell, and a nylon shell with the vibration technology; this is for hygiene reasons; you can wash the cotton part. The electronics are resistant to temperature. The units are eco-friendly. They’re 3D printed printed using a biodegradable plastic that degrades easily in composting situations like soil, but perfectly functional on the body. The plastic used is similar to PETG , and is water-resistant as well. The frequency used is around 50,000. The entire process will be overseen by the TDSB, including a medical doctor. The Blind Sports Association will also be involved. A member raised the issue of whether two units could be used in the same room. Manning said not currently, but a later model should make this possible. A future incarnation may include neural networks for image detection and recognition. It’s the same system being used in self-driving car technology. Databases are publicly available, and can be drawn on for projects like this. The plan is to use a refreshable braille display to give object recognition feedback. You would use a select key to change travel modes depending on whether you want image detection, to avoid an object, or to go toward an object. The vibration feedback could be switched between avoid or go toward modes. The device has an accelerometer, so that if you turn away from an object you want to go toward, it can tell you. For more information or to be a participant in Manning’s research, contact him at


We then moved into the cross-talk portion of the evening.

A member asked about the easiest and cheapest way to get a Google smart speaker. Another member answered that it’s possible to find the Google mini on sale for as low as $40. Also, you can install Google Assistant on your phone, which works almost as well.

A member asked about an affordable Android phone, that’s easier to use for someone with fibro-myalgia. Another member answered that she got an Android flip phone with actual buttons. It’s meant more for calling and texting rather than typical smart phone functions. Another member suggested a touch screen with a Bluetooth keyboard, plus Google Assistant, which would allow dictation. Motorola has some cheaper models. Blackberry phones have an actual keyboard, but are more expensive.

Ian discussed two podcasts he has found good, Cool Blind Tech, and Blind Vet tech, for blinded veterans. He also described Sonos, a series of 3 speakers that are internet ready. You can pair them to play left and right channels, and the sound is outstanding. You can plug something into your analog system, and it will be converted to digital and played through your wireless home system. They support Alexa, and will support Google Home at some point. The largest size are $600 or so each. The smallest size are about the size of a pop can, and have extremely full sound. They also make a sound bar that will work with your TV, and a base speaker, so that you can make it into a 5 point system. They run off of y-fi. The aps to play off various devices are quite accessible. Their tech support is really good for blind users, suggesting they’ve had some training. Sonos links

FAQ page for Sonos

Set up guide for sonos speakers – Cool Blind Tech


Another member described a podcast called Blind Android.

A member said how much he likes his wireless Beats headphones. They’re ear covering and noise cancelling. Another member said that the Marley Smiley Jamaica headphones are also really good.

A member described that Bay Bloor Radio will come to your house and install a system for you.